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Ever Forward at Poplar Island

When a 1,000 foot long container vessel runs aground in the Chesapeake, it'll probably always make the local news. When it gets stuck there for over a month and requires a massive team effort from multiple agencies to get it unstuck, it'll probably make the regional news. And when it happens almost exactly a year after a ship from the same company blocked the Suez Canal for 6 days, it makes major headlines.

When the Ever Forward ran aground in between Baltimore and the Bay Bridge, it grabbed a lot of attention. Luckily, it didn't completely interrupt international shipping for 6 days like the Ever Given did in the Suez Canal almost exactly a year ago. It did cause quite a few headaches in the area though, as teams worked to figure out how to get it moving again. The ship was stuck for so long it fell out of the news cycle, until it finally was refloated a month later. Thanks to the ingenuity of the Maryland Port Administration and other key partners, they managed to actually make something good out of the situation.

The dredged material which was scraped from underneath the hull of Ever Forward was brought a few miles down the bay to the Poplar Island Restoration Project. 151,470 cubic yards of sediment, in fact. So instead of going to wave the Ever Forward farewell, I headed out to Tilghman Island to see if I could scope out the dredges. Poplar Island is actually an ongoing restoration project, and an incredibly successful one at that. Once hundreds of acres of inhabited island land, it had dwindled to just a few acres and had almost been completely absorbed by the tides.

Dumping the Ever Forward problem at Poplar Island was no snap decision- depositing of dredged material has been happening here for almost 30 years, and has helped recreate a thriving refuge for wildlife and plants which was once on the verge of disappearing. The material used to restore the island was from a constant supply of sediment being dredged from the Baltimore shipping channel (to allow bigger and bigger boats like Ever Forward into the Chesapeake in the first place). The project to restore the island was actually officially completed in 2021, but I guess they figured they could handle a few more yards on the island.

I approached Poplar Island from the Eastern Shore side. Lowes Point Marina provides a soft access for a small fee. The Island is clear and visible from the shore, with strands of pine trees competing with a number of cranes to dominate the sky line. The trip isn't very far, but the water can move quickly through the channel. The island is a wildlife refuge, so it's best viewed from the water, and access to the island itself requires prior approval.

Seeing an island which used to be an island, but then was no longer an island but is now once again an island is a bit surreal (and confusing to try to explain). It's almost like you're looking at a ghost of the past and the present at the same time. While the island used to have a small inhabited community, there's no trace of that past. Now, it has the look of that unmistakable Eastern Shore habitat, and is the home for an incredibly diverse amount of bird species. And although the island is closed to the public, tours are now being given while we wait for the next Everstuck to help make the island even bigger.

I often wonder how much the big stories from our area which grab local attention also catch the attention of people outside our region. After all, we get a little self-centered in our various comfort zones, thinking half-delusional that the world revolves around our own little neck of the woods. It goes both ways, of course. I know there's a San Francisco Bay, but I don't really know anything about San Francisco Bay besides the big red bridge which spans it. Does it have a stewardship community working to protect it? Does it have stories of vanishing shorelines, climate change effects, and ecosystems in distress? Probably? I just don't have the bandwidth to pick up on those stories.

While the Ever Forward made big headlines- everything about it was big- the smaller scene at Poplar Island is the lasting story. Seeing an island which has come back from the brink really tells a tale about past, present and future. It's a story of this island in particular but also implied across the Chesapeake. And it shows that while the watershed can find a way to show resilience on it's own, sometimes we can be a part of that resilience in an impressive and pretty creative way.


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