Site 17: Fish Nursery

One honest John Tompkins, a herder and ditcher,

Although he was poor, did not want to be richer.

Jane Taylor - Original Poems for Infant Minds


The ditch that sits beside Site 17 was dug by hand and with the use of livestock, such as oxen. The landowners at the time believed if they could hold back the river and bay water from entering the marsh, the marsh would dry out and the land could be use for crops or grazing animals. Unfortunately, the project did not work as designed. The wall breached farther toward the point, so that water still ebbs and flows with the tidal changes in this area.

Since those early days, the ditch has become vital habitat for populations of fish, snails, and shrimp. Sheepshead minnows (Cyprinodon variegatus), mummichog (Fundulus heteroclitus), striped killifish (Fundulus majalis), and others frequent this area, which offers protection and plenty of food. Across the ditch, the saltmarsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) blankets the muddy marsh. Egrets, herons, and other bird species come here to feed on the baby fish as they take shelter between the roots of the grasses. Another significant population lives here, too - the common grass shrimp (genus Palaemonetes) have exploded in numbers in this area, proving food for many of the larger species here.

In recent years, the opening of the channel to the bay has become inundated with sediment, especially collections of shells. In order to ensure the marsh drains properly as each tide recedes, and keep the marsh from sinking as sea levelrises, the local conservation organization Save the Bay has been monitoring vegetation and keeping an eye on the width of the drainage ditch. In December 2014, Save the Bay restoration ecologists brought to campus a specially-designed excavator. This piece of equipment sits up off the muddy sediment on stilts, which minimalizes its impact on the marsh when moving it to the desired location. The blocked part of the ditch was dredged, which allowed for more proper tidal flow. Save the Bay continues to monitor water levels and vegetation in order to see how the marsh responds to better drainage. 

Land of Fires - Site 17