Beginning next month, the National Aquarium plans to start work on its floating wetland exhibit, titled “Harbor Wetland,” between piers 3 and 4 in the Inner Harbor.

The exhibit — scheduled to open next summer — will reintroduce a natural salt marsh habitat that once thrived in the city, aquarium officials said in a news release. It will feature a network of floating, manmade “islands” with plants and grasses to attract and provide shelter for native species.

It will also be a free and open floating public park. Visitors to the Inner Harbor will not have to pay admission to visit the exhibit.

Jen Driban, the aquarium’s senior vice president and chief mission officer, said this project is a long time coming.

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“We’ve been working on floating wetland technology through many iterations and many different projects. The most current prototype went in the water back in 2017,” she said.

The 400-square-foot prototype is currently floating between piers 3 and 5, near the bridge that connects the two. Driban said the full “Harbor Wetland” project will look similar, but much, much larger: The full project, including the walkable floating dock, is set to span 10,000 feet.

Aquarium staff expect the wetland exhibit to attract a number of native species to the area, including blue crabs, oysters, night herons and eels. It will feature educational signage to supplement the firsthand look visitors can take into a wetland ecosystem.

The plants in the floating wetland also improve water quality in at least two ways, Driban said. The plants add dissolved oxygen to the water, and they absorb other nutrients from the water.

The existing prototype floating wetland in the water between piers 3 and 4 was installed back in 2017. (Mark Moody/Mark Moody, National Aquarium)

The work beginning next month is the installation of pilings between the harbor piers, which will become the infrastructure for the wetlands and walkways that will be installed later.

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Aquarium officials said onlookers can expect to see the floating docks and additional wetlands by the spring. They should look similar to the prototype floating wetland that’s already in the water between piers 3 and 4.

The aquarium is spending about $14 million on the project, Driban said. The project was developed for many years as the Waterfront Campus Plan, and is sponsored by CFG Bank, aquarium officials said.

“In a beautiful, accessible space, Baltimoreans and visitors alike will gain a new appreciation of the rich biodiversity of the Chesapeake Bay,” National Aquarium President and CEO John Racanelli said in a statement. “Within the important redevelopment underway all around the Inner Harbor, our Harbor Wetland space helps set the stage for both the economic and ecological success of downtown Baltimore in the years ahead.”

Late last year, the National Aquarium completed a project to replace the panes of glass on its iconic pyramid that encloses its tropical rainforest habitat. Later this year, the aquarium is preparing for its fourth installation of Voyages, an adults-only event that brings local art, food and drinks to the space.

Cody Boteler is a reporter on The Banner’s Express Desk, reporting on breaking news, trending stories and interesting things in and around Baltimore. His work has appeared in The Baltimore Sun, USA TODAY, Baltimore magazine and others.

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