is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty.
And I'm Shirley Griffith. Today
we tell about efforts to save an island in the American state of Maryland. Poplar Island lies about fifty-five
kilometers south of Baltimore, in the Chesapeake Bay. This historic waterway opens into the Atlantic
sailing on the Chesapeake Bay often comment about the beauty of the area's water
and wetland birds. Uncounted birds have
lived in the area for centuries.
by nineteen ninety, an island important to the birds was sinking. Winds, water and time had reduced Poplar
Island to only a few pieces of land. All
the land together measured only one and one half hectares. Sometimes, water threatened to cover all of what
remained. Birds lost areas where they
traditionally lived and reproduced.
now birds are returning to the island. Poplar Island is in the process of rebirth.
birds make a home on Poplar Island today. The island now measures four hundred sixty-one hectares, about the same size
as in the eighteen eighties. The birds
will have even more space in the future. The island is expected to grow by another two hundred thirty-three
Island shows what can happen when many people and organizations cooperate.
nineteen ninety-four, engineers and government agencies joined to plan a
possible rescue of Poplar Island. The
United States Army Corps of Engineers, the Maryland Port Administration and other
groups became partners in the effort. Environmental
activists and people who live near the island supported the campaign.
The planners thought a Poplar Island rescue could help the
port of Baltimore. They wanted to find a
new place to put material dug up from shipping channels leading to the
port. Each year, container ships carry thousands
of tons of goods to Baltimore. The ships
need deep waters for the trip. The shipping
channels must be dredged, or cleared, of silt, a fine-particle material.
plan called for dropping the dredged material in deep waters. But environmental activists and people who
lived along the coastline objected. They
said the dredged material would reduce water quality. So, the planners asked, why not re-use the material
to rebuild Poplar Island? The planners believed
the idea would meet the needs of the port of Baltimore. A rebuilt island also would help return thousands
of water birds to the Chesapeake Bay.
project was approved in nineteen ninety-six. The following year, the Army Corps of Engineers signed a Project
Cooperation Agreement with the state of Maryland. The agreement called for the Army engineers
to lead the rescue of the island.
Experts would return grasses, plants and trees to
Poplar Island. Underwater plants would recover,
leading more birds to return. The birds
would build nesting areas and produce young on the island. And, the island could provide an example for
other areas interested in similar projects.
started in nineteen ninety-eight. The project
is now called the Paul S. Sarbanes Ecosystem Restoration Project at Poplar
Island. The name honors Mister Sarbanes,
the Senator who led the campaign for the project in the United States Congress.
Kevin Brennan leads the Poplar
Island project. He says the project will
cost six hundred sixty-seven million dollars. The federal government has paid most of the
money, sharing the cost with the state. Completion
is expected by about twenty thirty-four.
Much work has already been done. Flat-bottom
boats have carried eighteen million cubic yards of dredged material to the
island. When a boat arrives, the
material is cleaned and dried. Machinery
pumps the dry material onto the island. Then it is shaped to build up the land. About forty hectares have been completed.
Chesapeake Bay sometimes flows over the wetlands, which cover half the land. Plantings in the wetlands help hold down the
soil against the forces of erosion, like wind and water.
volunteers placed seventy-six thousand spartina plants in a wetlands area. Spartinas are a kind of saltmarsh grass. They traditionally are a home for wild birds
and prevent erosion.
volunteers placed the plants about five centimeters into the soil to prevent rising
and falling water levels from pulling them out. Volunteers also built barriers to keep hungry geese
from eating the spartina.
Students from the Marriotts
Ridge High School in Maryland volunteered for the project. Besides planting, the students also released terrapins
on the island. The terrapins joined
thousands of other turtles there. The
National Aquarium in Baltimore helped organize the release with other groups.
Later in June, prisoners also worked on
the island. They are part of a state program
called Maryland Correctional Enterprises. The program is meant to help prisoners develop work skills for the time after
they serve their sentences.
At one time, poplar trees must have
grown on Poplar Island. But there are no
poplars there now. Instead, northern
pines and hardwood trees will rise on the higher half of the land, which is
dead trees have found their way to the island. Trees thrown away after the winter holidays are part of the recycling
process. Kevin Brennan of the Poplar
Island Project says ducks like to build their homes on the dead trees.
brings workers and machinery to the island. But the noise does not seem to frighten the birds.
seventeenth is the day many Americans celebrate Saint Patrick's Day. Mister Brennan says ospreys also mark that
day. Every year, he says, ospreys return
to Poplar Island to build their homes on March seventeenth.
The project leader says
some of the birds place pieces of wood on heavy machinery like bulldozers. Workers remove these sticks to use the
machinery. But when the workers return
the next day, the birds have replaced the sticks.
Mister Brennan says about one hundred seventy kinds of
birds use the island for a nesting place. Sometimes a heron can be seen standing on one thin
snowy egrets and eagles also are among the many kinds of birds of Poplar Island. They share the territory with animals like white
tailed deer, river otters and mice.
people live on the island now. And no
one will live there when the project is completed. But it was not always unpopulated. Native American tribes once grew vegetables like
beans and corn throughout the Chesapeake coastal plain.
first known European settlement on Poplar Island was established in the sixteen
thirties. Around that time England gave
the land to Richard Thompson, a trader and explorer. For a few years, the settlement grew.
tragedy struck. One day Thompson
returned to Poplar Island from a trip and made a horrible discovery. Some settlers had been murdered. But the crime did not stop people from continuing
to live on the island.
troops occupied Poplar Island during the War of Eighteen Twelve. Historical records say a trader bought the island
in eighteen forty-four. He wanted to
keep one thousand cats there to produce black cat fur. But the animals escaped to the mainland when
waters on the Chesapeake Bay froze in December.
the early nineteen hundreds, Poplar Island had mail service, a store and a
school. But nature was cruel. By the nineteen twenties, erosion from winds
and weather had removed a large part of the land.
some politicians bought the island in the early nineteen thirties. They thought the wildlife and distance from Washington,
D.C. would make a good place for people wishing to get away from the city. They built a clubhouse on a piece of land that
had separated from the main island.
Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt
and Harry Truman used Poplar Island and nearby Jackson Island for holidays. The clubhouse burned down in nineteen forty-six,
and the island continued to erode.
Recently, a Maryland woman who
remembers going to Poplar Island years ago returned on a guided visit. She said it was wonderful that life had
returned to an interesting part of Chesapeake Bay.
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Jerilyn Watson. Our producer was Brianna Blake. I'm Bob Doughty.
And I'm Shirley Griffith. Listen again next week for more news about science
in Special English on the Voice of America.