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Research specialist Megan McCabe of Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary gives an introduction of what to expect while exploring the Ecology Water tour of the Mallows Bay Terrain360 virtual trail. Credit: National Marine Sanctuary Foundation/NOAA.

Mallows Bay Ecology Water Trail

For nearly 100 years, nature has changed the Ghost Fleet into a one-of-a-kind ecosystem. Explore these plant-covered wrecks, now distinctive islands, that change with the tides. These habitats, both above and below the water, are important to fish, beavers, and birds, such as ospreys, blue herons, and bald eagles. Although the sanctuary does not manage or regulate these natural resources, the unique blending of history and ecology attracts and fascinates visitors from around the world.

This virtual tour shows the wonders of the Ghost Fleet and Mallows Bay. As you move through the hotspots, you will see how each wreck creates a different habitat. Click each spot to see photos and videos of the plants and animals that call these wrecks home, and learn more about the research and studies that take place at Mallows Bay.

Safety Information Current Conditions Printed Version Getting There


Due to the location of the park, during an emergency please call the Charles County Sheriffโ€™s Department, they will connect caller with the county 911 services.
The number is 301-932-2222
*Please install this number on your device.


  • COLD WATER TEMPERATURES ARE HAZARDOUS TO PADDLERS. Paddling is recommended between May and September.
  • RESPECT WILDLIFE. Animals and birds should be viewed from a distance.
  • BEWARE OF HIDDEN WRECKS. It is dangerous to travel through the central shipwreck cluster, especially during high tide when ship remains lie just below the waterline and are invisible to the paddler.

Explore the Ecology Water Trail

Interactive Map

Click a marker to explore the paddle trail

Ecology Water Trail

image of Launch Point
Launch Point

Mallows Bay is a freshwater tidal ecosystem in the Potomac River. It's home to a unique habitat created by the remains of the Ghost Fleet. On this paddle tour, you will get to see some of the plants, animals, and habitats that make this such a special place. We will stop at some of the best spots to see all that Mallows Bay has to offer. read more

image of Osprey Nest
Osprey Nest

One of the first things you may see as you paddle out to the wrecks is an osprey nest in a tree on the shoreline. Known as the โ€œfish hawk,โ€ ospreys are mid-sized raptors, birds of prey, that live near water. Ospreys stay with the same mate for life and often return to the same nest every year. Each year, their nests grow larger as they continue to add sticks and other materials. Ospreys live in the Mid-Atlantic region from... read more

image of Pilings

While paddling past the row of pilings, it is common to see double-crested cormorants drying their wings. This common waterbird has less oil on its feathers than other waterbirds. With less oil, water soaks into their feathers instead of dripping off. The extra water they absorb makes them heavier, which helps them dive deeper and faster to catch prey. They are excellent divers and eat a wide variety of fish. read more

image of ๐˜ˆ๐˜ค๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ข๐˜ค

The ๐˜ˆ๐˜ค๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ข๐˜ค is home to two osprey nests. Ospreys like to build their nests in open areas, high off the ground so predators cannot get to them. They often build their nests at the top of trees, or on man-made objects like nest platforms, telephone poles, or shipwrecks like the ๐˜ˆ๐˜ค๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ข๐˜ค.   To view a 3D model of the vessel click here. read more

image of Water Quality Buoy
Water Quality Buoy

In the channel of the river, there is a real-time water quality testing buoy that is managed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Through its Eyes on the Bay program, data is collected every 15 minutes. The buoy collects data on water temperature, salt levels, pH, dissolved oxygen, how clear the water is, and chlorophyll, or the levels of algae in the water. This data is used to make decisions, check trends over time, and inform people of the... read more

image of Acoustic Telemetry Receiver
Acoustic Telemetry Receiver

The water quality buoy also uses an acoustic telemetry receiver that collects data on fish that have been tagged with a transmitter for research. Sanctuary staff collect and look at the data in partnership with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and the Mid-Atlantic Acoustic Telemetry Observation System. The data helps sanctuary staff and partners better understand what fish species are in the sanctuary, including any rare, endangered, or threatened species. In 2022, the receiver detected 864 readings from 13 different... read more

image of ๐˜‰๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ป๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ช๐˜ข

๐˜‰๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ป๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ช๐˜ข rests on top of ๐˜Š๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ช๐˜ฃ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ, another U.S. Shipping Board wreck. The two ships together make for one of the most captivating sights in the Ghost Fleet. Half of the ๐˜‰๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ป๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ช๐˜ข rises out of the water and is filled with plant growth, despite being far away from the shore. Seeds spread by birds and the wind settled in the wreck and created an island. These plants support a variety of species, including an ospreyโ€™s nest on the back of the... read more

image of Grady’s Spit
Grady’s Spit

At the northernmost edge of Mallows Bay, the remains of several ships have created a landmass known as Gradyโ€™s spit. Over time, sediment got trapped in the hulls of the ships, creating a new landmass that changed the shoreline. Wetland plants began to grow as water currents and birds deposited seeds. Today, Gradyโ€™s spit offers a welcome landing spot for the tired paddler to get out and stretch their legs on a small beach. As part of a bacterial water... read more

image of Three Sisters
Three Sisters

The wreck sites of ๐˜”๐˜ฐ๐˜ฐ๐˜ด๐˜ข๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฆ, ๐˜‹๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ข, and an unidentified vessel, are known as the โ€œThree Sisters.โ€ The ships sit near the shore and up against a bluff. This site also sits the furthest of all of the Ghost Fleet from the open water. Each ship is covered in lush plant life, such as common marsh plants like marsh tickseed and cardinal flower. The unidentified ship is known to have an active beaver lodge, which shows how these ships have turned... read more

image of Flowerpot Wrecks
Flowerpot Wrecks

These two unidentified ships are called "flowerpot" wrecks. They get their name from the plants growing inside the ships, much like how plants grow in a flowerpot. Rocks were put in their hulls to weigh them down and keep them from drifting. As time passed, sediment and seeds gathered inside, turning them into man-made islands. Today, they help to make the shores of Mallows Bay strong and stable. As land plants began to grow on these wrecks, the wetland area... read more

image of Eagle Nest
Eagle Nest

Look up, and you might see an eagle's nest high up in the pine trees. Bald eagles like to build their nests near water, and in older trees that can hold nests that weigh over 1,000 pounds. Bald eagles and ospreys are plentiful in the area and both like to eat fish. Thanks to the healthy waters, there are plenty of fish in Mallows Bay for both! read more

image of Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV)
Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV)

The shallow water near the shore is a great place for submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), or underwater grasses, to grow. These grasses give food and shelter to fish, crabs, and other animals. When there are plenty of underwater grasses, it means the water is clean and healthy.ย  There are about ten different types of underwater grasses in this area. They can be found from late spring through early fall. The most common ones are wild celery, water stargrass, coontail, and... read more

image of Liverpool Cove
Liverpool Cove

Liverpool Cove provides an entrance to the upstream waters of Mallows Bay. This calm creek is full of aquatic plants like spatterdock, a type of water lily with yellow flowers. You might also see other freshwater marsh plants like green arrow arum (also called tuckahoe) and pickerelweed. This area provides habitat to lots of young fish, like striped bass, yellow perch, and American shad. It's also a habitat for birds and animals that like to live near water. read more

image of Marlow Creek
Marlow Creek

Going past the kayak launch and through the Burning Basin takes you into Marlow Creek. Like Liverpool Cove, this creek has many freshwater marsh plants such as tuckahoe and pickerelweed in the low marsh, and wild rice and cattail further back in the high marsh. In the late summer, you may also see the pink or white blooms of the swamp rose mallow, a marsh plant that may be where Mallows Bay got its name. read more

Mallows Bay Current Conditions

May 21, 2024 03:09 AM

Air Temperature


Water Temperature

Maryland DNR Buoy


"Eyes on the Bay" Water quality Buoy Information Click Here maryland DNR logo
Water Level


Additional Weather Data