Post by Program Instructors Chloe Tremper and Olivia Lukacic
Five high school students, a little unsure of what to expect, assembled on foggy Hurricane Island for the first day of our week-long Island Ecology program. What followed was an incredible week filled with laughter, plants, creatures, and adventures of all kinds. The students joined our community from all over New England (plus Philadelphia), and each brought their own interests, excitement, and personalities.
After everyone settled into the bunkhouse, Chloe and Olivia showed students the ropes of the main campus, went over Hurricane's sustainability systems, and shared pieces about the history of the island. We finished the day with sit spots, which are a part of the program routine. These 30-60 minute long sit spots give students time to reflect on what they learned that day, observe the world around them, and enjoy the peace and quiet that the island has to offer.
The rest of the week flew by quickly: each morning was filled with nature explorations and science adventures, and afternoons focused on sailing and rock climbing challenges. Kevin Keegan, a PhD student at the University of Connecticut started off the students' first full day on the island exploring a group of creatures that strike fear in the hearts of many: bugs! The students were introduced to the four main orders of pollinating insects (Diptera, Coleoptera, Lepidoptera, and Hymenoptera) before heading out on an insect hunt. Kevin taught the students how to catch insects using nets and a beat sheet as well as how to properly preserve, mount, and label specimen. Our favorite thing he taught us, however, was the art of "zenning for insects," which consists of closely examining a small area of shrub for signs of insects like curled or chewed leaves. This led us to discover a huge pile of caterpillar frass with a caterpillar hiding inside! While some high school students may have been unenthused with the idea of touching bugs, everyone had a blast catching insects of all shapes and sizes.
The island ecology students left two positive, permanent marks on Hurricane. They contributed specimens to Hurricane's new permanent insect reference collection and they also designed and planted a beautiful new pollinator garden on the south end of the island. The garden is filled with echinaceae, flox, nepita, and more and was planted near our new hive of honeybees to benefit them and the native pollinators of Hurricane.
The students also spent a morning exploring the intertidal, learning about all of the different creatures that can be found there, followed by a perimeter hike to explore the transition from sea to land. Another morning, the students completed a clue-based plant hunt with Ben Lemmond, a UVM masters student, to understand species distribution and diversity on the island.
Later in the week we came back to botany to learn about the diversity of flowers, trees, shrubs, and ferns on the island. This knowledge was crucial for our edible feast on the last day full day of the program. We spent all morning walking the island collecting edibles including a variety of berries, seaside edibles like sea rocket and orach, and edible flowers like red clovers, elderflowers, wild rose, and nasturtiums. After gathering wild edibles, students spent the afternoon working with our amazing chef Micah to harvest veggies from our garden and to prepare and cook all the food. The students worked as a great team and pulled off a fantastic evening - cooking an amazing meal, developing menus, setting and decorating the main hall for more than thirty people! Some of our favorite menu items included a beach rose and clover simple syrup, elderflower fritters, and a huge garden and foraged salad.
The group got their adventure on during afternoons rock climbing and sailing. We led up to our on-the-water activities with help from Sam learning about nautical charts, navigation, and some important knot tying skills. During our full afternoon sail we were able to circumnavigate Greens Island and anchored at one of the beaches to explore the idea of island biogeography and see the differences between islands in Penobscot Bay. The adventuring continued with two sessions of rock climbing. Everyone pushed their limits in climbing and belaying, and one of the students was able to complete a route blindfolded! Students also got the awesome experience of repelling down the main face over the quarry.
Throughout the week we bonded over evening volleyball games, amazing sunsets (once the fog cleared), swimming in the Atlantic ocean, raucous games of UNO, and camp fires on the south end. The week flew by and we hope the students had as much fun as we did!