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Harbor Wetlands, a new outdoor exhibit, recreates salt marsh habitat from Baltimore's past

National Aquarium's new outdoor exhibit brings marsh to Inner Harbor
National Aquarium's new outdoor exhibit brings marsh to Inner Harbor 02:07

BALTIMORE - If you've walked around the Inner Harbor lately you might have seen a new habitat.

It's part of the National Aquarium's newest outdoor exhibit called Harbor Wetland, which is an effort to help keep our waterways clean and healthy.

"We are planting the water, I mean the plants and the plants in the water in the grass," said Tereak Harrell, a student at Harlem Park Elementary Middle School.

"For the ground, so the animal can have a better environment and habitat," Tyshawn Jones, a student at Harlem Park Elementary Middle School.

"We have trays of grass," said Charmaine Dahlenburg, the Director of Field Conservation at the National Aquarium. "They pull the plug out and they put it in the hole. They just have to do that 33,000 times." 

These Harlem Park Elementary Middle School students are volunteering with the Baltimore Orioles to help the National Aquarium plant and build the new Harbor Wetland exhibit. 

They were all joined by community leaders, volunteers, and more, Friday morning as they planted the grass at the site of the new exhibit. 

"It represents a traditional Chesapeake Bay Tidal wetland Marsh and we want people to explore a natural green space right here in the heart of Baltimore City," said Dahlenburg. "Where everybody is walking right now that's going to be underwater about eight inches, and then all the animals move in."

 It will be a free outdoor experience located between Piers 3 and 4 next to the aquarium.

"Baltimore Harbor used to have a lot of wetland habitat," Dahlenburg said. "Since its development and economic growth, we have hardened nearly all of our shoreline. So all those wetlands have disappeared, but also with that, we lost a lot of ecosystem services." 

Their goal is to recreate the salt marsh habitat that existed in Baltimore hundreds of years ago.

According to the National Aquarium, by mimicking the natural salt marsh habitat that once existed in Baltimore City, the Harbor Wetland will reintroduce an important ecosystem to the area.

In the process, experts at the aquarium believe it will provide green infrastructure that promotes healthy water; and attracts native species like blue crabs, American eels, Eastern oysters and night herons. 

"The Harbor is still a working harbor. We can't change that so we can't take away the bulkhead. So creating a floating wetland is one way to bring together both nature and also man," Dahlenburg said. 

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott stopped by to help plant the native marsh grasses into the floating mats. 

Dahlenburg told WJZ the grass will help bring the exhibit to life.

"It has 32,000 holes in a material where the plants are going to grow. Those plants are native to the Chesapeake Bay region," explained Dahlenburg. "We don't have a tremendous amount of green spaces here in Baltimore City. They're kind of fragmented. So this is kind of pulling that fragmentation together." 

It's a way to build a natural habitat and help people learn more about it.

"I've seen how they kind of brighten up when we actually get to do activities. So talking about things in class is totally different than being out here doing it being able to apply the knowledge," said Dahlenburg. 

"To have– to be able to walk out here free in a city and sit here and see the beauty that's going to come back is just the extra icing on the cake," Mayor Brandon Scott told WJZ. 

According to the National Aquarium, the new outdoor exhibit presented by CFG Bank will open this summer 2024. It will be located between Piers 3 and 4 of the National Aquarium campus on Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

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