Paul S. Sarbanes Ecosystem Restoration Project at Poplar Island
Poplar Island, located in Talbot County in the mid--Chesapeake Bay, has become a national model of environmental restoration. It is the site where an innovative solution for dredged material management is resulting in the restoration of a once vanishing island.
Poplar Island is one of what was once many isolated islands within the Chesapeake Bay region. Through various natural processes, these islands are being lost. The habitat offered by these remote islands has historically offered safe, relatively predator free habitat to many of the Bay’s diverse wildlife and bird species, as well as a safe harbor for the Bay’s fish and shellfish resources. Poplar Island was reduced in size from approximately 1,100 acres, as recorded in 1847, to just 5 acres in 1993.
The loss of the island and its critical wildlife habitat has been reversed using clean dredged material from the Port of Baltimore’s approach channels. The process involves placing, shaping, and planting some 40 million cubic yards of dredged material within a dike constructed to approximate the 1847 footprint. The first two phases of dike construction were completed by 2002, and dredged material placement began in 2001.
In 2014, the project was authorized for a 575 acre expansion which is scheduled to begin as early as 2016 and will increase the total project size to 1,715 acres, allowing for a project placement total of 68 million cubic yards of material.
The restoration of Poplar Island includes the creation of uplands and intertidal wetlands offering a diversity of habitats for a variety of Chesapeake Bay wildlife. With less than 20% of the habitat creation completed, Poplar Island wildlife goals are already being realized. A number of the region’s most sensitive bird species including common and least terns, cattle and snowy egrets, osprey, and the American black duck, are found nesting onsite annually and diamondback terrapins continue to return to the site to nest as well.
The restoration of Poplar Island has gained national and local attention, and Maryland and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers won a “Coastal America” award for their work. The project also has gained international attention with delegations from across the globe visiting the site each year.
Poplar Island Tours
Tours and educational programs at Poplar Island focus on details related to the beneficial use of dredged material to create remote island habitat. Tours cover erosion, the process of habitat restoration, water quality monitoring, and species diversity. Participants will also learn about cultural history on the Chesapeake from the 1600s through today, including how in the past the Poplar Island chain hosted first a thriving Bay community and later a retreat for politicians, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Tours are open to school groups, community organizations and individuals. With prior notification, tour themes and activities can be customized to your needs and interests.