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Protecting the bays' rich wildlife diversity - February 23, 2012

Protecting wildlife diversity and educating the public on the biological richness of the bays, farms, and forests around Ocean City and Assateague has been a significant part of the Coastal Bays Program's efforts.

Over the past decade the program has worked with partners to protect more than 10,000 acres of farms and forests in the coastal bays watershed east of US 113 and has helped complete more than 30 restoration projects.

The program's soft shoreline projects have helped restore terrapin nesting and horseshoe crab spawning habitat in more than 10 locations in the bays. Our work on the Adkins property on MD 376 will help restore wetland and native hardwoods for the new 440-acre county park. At the 30-acre "Lizard Hill" site in Bishopville we worked with the State Highway Administration and the Department of Natural Resources to restore rare Atlantic white cedar, and we recently opened to the public our restored 90-acre property on Pitts Road in Showell.

Meanwhile, our volunteers continue to help collect data for researchers by counting colonial nesting birds every summer and by counting and tagging horseshoe crabs that spawn on sandy bay beaches. Like horseshoe crabs, herons, egrets, skimmers and ibis have only a few breeding locations in the entire state of Maryland, most of which are in the coastal bays.

This June our volunteers will assist in counting terrapins as part of the state terrapin census and more than 50 volunteers will document the occurrence of turtles, salamanders, snakes, and frogs as part of the Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas. Like bird species, many of our amphibian species are struggling to cope with urban sprawl and climate change.

Much of this research will help direct our management efforts as we work with partners and citizens to update the Coastal Bays Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan. In the coming months via workshops and web surveys, residents will have the opportunity to share their thoughts on ways to help protect water quality and biological diversity in the coastal bays watershed over the long term.

To assist in the education effort, the Coastal Bays Citizens Advisory Committee will be hosting biology professor Ron Gutberlet from Salisbury University on Feb. 23 at 5 p.m. at the Globe in Berlin. There, Gutberlet will showcase unique photos of Delmarva's birds, reptiles, and amphibians and discuss population status and habitat needs.

His research has resulted in the description of several new species and genera of lizards and snakes and discoveries about the evolution of pitvipers. Gutberlet says he values citizen science as a mechanism for collecting large quantities of valuable data, while providing students and other members of the community opportunities to pursue their curiosity about nature in fun and rewarding ways.

The Cockeysville native serves as a member of the Maryland-eBird Review Team and is vice president of the Tri-County Bird Club. The esteemed naturalist holds a B.A. in English literature from the University of Maryland and a PhD in biology from the University of Texas.

Through research and public education, Salisbury University has been an important part of the collaborative effort of local, state, and federal partners to help protect and restore the coastal bays. Wildlife in the bays behind Ocean City and Assateague continue to reap the rewards of the tremendous public-private partnerships that have made the efforts of the Coastal Bays Program so successful.

Wilson is the executive director of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.


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