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Friday, July 4, 2014

The Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor New Jersey

The Stone Harbor, Wildwood and Cape May areas in New Jersey have hundreds of family-friendly and educational activities for you to enjoy when you visit the Jersey Shore. All three of these shore towns are located within a 20 minute car ride from one another, so going from one activity to the next is quick and easy to do.

Recently we visited the Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor. We have always wanted to visit it but never took the time to do it until our last trip down there a few weeks ago. Wow, we were really missing out on a fun & educational time! 

The institute sits right off of the Garden State Parkway on the main drag leading into Stone Harbor. We found it very easy to get to from the Parkway and made for a fun adventure after visiting the Cape May County Zoo. Their hours vary, so you will want to check their web site for their schedule of operation.

You will want to wear comfortable walking shoes as you will be doing a lot of walking. Once you walk into the building, you will pay your admission. While you are in this area, you can use the public restroom and/or visit the gift shop which really has some really cool gifts!

We waited about 20 minutes and then went on the tour through the wetlands. You walk down wide & clear paths and then out onto a man-made walking bridge through the marsh. The tour guides tell you all about the native coastal plants that you see along the paths, the wildlife that lives there and all kinds of other fun facts and cool things! 

The tour guides really take their time and they do NOT rush you around. Several times they stop and let you take photos and ask them questions which was really nice. In addition, they do it in small groups...we had about 12-14 people in our group. 

On the day that we visited...we got to see several female Terrapins digging holes in the sand and laying their eggs. Terrapin conservation is really big with the Wetlands Institute and they have several programs going on to help the Terrapins to survive and to increase their numbers. 

These Terrapin turtles are pretty slow at finding the perfect place to dig their holes, lay their eggs and then cover them up to protect them. You could stand there for a few hours watching the entire process take place. However, if they know you are there, they will abandon their dig and move on, so try not to disturb them if you see them. 

We were fortunate enough to spot one who didn't spot us! She had just finished laying her eggs and covering up her egg nest. After she was done, the staff marked the spot and then put a very cool wire mesh nesting box over the top to protect the buried eggs from predators. Apparently skunks, raccoon and other birds like to feast on Terrapin eggs.

I love turtles so I was really happy to see one in the wild and to learn about the Wetlands Institute Terrapins Conservation Program. You can learn more about it on their website and you can also adopt a Terrapin (virtually). These turtles need all of the help they can get!

We continued on our tour until we ended up on a dock type of area with an over-look. We sat up there for awhile just observing the various sea birds, crabs, fish and other wildlife that lives there. It was amazingly beautifully to see this salt marsh habitat in action!

The tour guides then leave you on your own to explore which was really nice. We decided to re-walk the trails and really take a look around. We spotted all kinds of birds this time around as we were on our own and pretty quiet. 
Once we were done outside...we headed in to their small aquarium building where we got to feed some spider crabs, a star fish, a flounder and several other living creatures that they had in the aquarium. They only feed them on certain days & times...so check their schedule for that. Yes, they do let you feed them while they tell you all about them. We thought this was really cool and hubby kissed a star fish because the legend says that if you kiss a live one...you get 7 years of good luck!

We spent about 25 minutes in the aquarium building feeding the wildlife and checking out the exhibits in there. It is air conditioned in there so it was nice to get out of the sun and heat for awhile.

This was a fun family-friendly activity that was totally affordable! You will want to allow about 1 1/2 hours to go through everything at a "snails" pace. Once you are done...you can shop the Wetlands Institute Gift Shop for some fun souvenirs! We highly recommend it!

Enjoy your trip to the south Jersey Shore! You can find additional blogs posts right here on our blog of fun things to see and do on your trip! 

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