Southern Agenda

A Whole New Water World

Encased by asphalt and concrete, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor seems an unlikely spot to learn about nature. “It was always considered a place that was polluted, and if you fell in, something bad would have happened to you,” says Charmaine Dahlenburg, director of field conservation for the National Aquarium, which fronts the waterway. “We want to flip that narrative.” After more than a decade of prototyping, the institution will dedicate Harbor Wetland, a 10,000-square-foot floating habitat that replicates the tidal salt marsh once found in preindustrial Baltimore. The outdoor exhibit, which the aquarium likens to a giant buoyant Brillo pad, will be planted with nearly 40,000 plugs of cordgrass and native shrubs and should immediately begin to draw wildlife. Early models of the artificial island attracted turtles, crabs, snakes, migratory birds, and even a muskrat. A boardwalk spans the free exhibit, which shows just a glimpse of the Aquarium’s restoration projects throughout Maryland and Virginia. Dahlenburg says the postage stamp–size park also offers an unexpected urban escape. “You kind of forget you’re surrounded by buildings. It’s going to be a green space and a natural place, and as humans, we’re drawn to that.”