Island Updates

Aquaculture retreat brings educators together

Blog post by guest contributor Yvonne Thomas (Education Director, Island Institute) and Director of Education Dr. Jennifer Page

Hurricane Island was excited to host a group of Maine middle and high school educators for an Aquaculture Workshop last weekend in collaboration with the Island Institute and Herring Gut Learning Center.  Participants came from island and coastal schools, including to share experiences and learn about bringing aquaculture education into their classrooms through a variety of species and approaches and enjoyed a relaxing retreat complete with fantastic meals, amazing hikes, and an evening campfire with s'mores.... can you think of a better way to earn CEUs?

Alex shares an array of kelp snacks and other products (including soap!)

As soon as the educators were settled into their cabins they convened in our lab for an introduction and welcome session to get us started.  Herring Gut educator Alex Brasili led the educators through a "Kelp 101" discussion (including kelp snacks!) and then quickly got us out in the field to get up close and personal with algae in the intertidal zone.  Alex demonstrated ways to set up stations to get kids to cycle through the various levels of zonation with some level of autonomy and educators got a chance to play in the seaweed and share their knowledge. After some time messing around in the intertidal, educators came together on the rocks to discuss their experiences and best practices for bringing kids into field situations.

Scallop spat in a wide variety of colors and patterns that they will lose as they grow older

Despite the threat of significant rain all day, the weather held out beyond spitting at us during our after lunch session out on the pier and floating dock. Hurricane Island Research Assistant Bailey Moritz walked the group through our work with scallops and her efforts to bring scallop aquaculture to Hurricane. This included introductions to the gear, the methods, and, most importantly, to the adorable baby scallops that will make anyone want to be an aquaculturist!  You can read more about the scallop project and learn about spat (baby scallops) in Bailey's post from earlier this year.  The crew opened one of Bailey's spat bags and searched through the netting to find nudibranchs, starfish, crabs, and, of course, tons of baby scallops that we will be using to seed our own bottom cages to start shellfish aquaculture on Hurricane Island.

Back in the lab, we warmed up and learned about kelp aquaculture and how to identify and handle kelp reproductive tissue (sorus). We heard about the collaboration between Hurricane Island and Northport's Edna Drinkwater School to grow kelp in their classroom to be 'planted' by the students at Hurricane's aquaculture site in October. We hoped to release some spores but had to settle for looking at videos of kelp spores running around under a microscope when the sorus tissue we had prepared didn't release spores as planned - which served as an excellent reminder that you can't control nature! Teachers got a chance to see the equipment needed to set up kelp cultivation in their own classrooms and we discussed the mechanics of creating their own aquaculture site near their school.  Some educators opted to keep their model sites on paper but Alex produced an amazing array of odds and ends for educators to mock up their own site as a scale model to test in the lab aquarium.

Unfortunately, Alex was only able to join us for the first day so as we said 'goodbye' to her we switched gears and headed our on a Hurricane Island history hike, complete with the requisite amazing views from the high cliffs and images of what the island looked like when it was a functioning quarry in the early 1900's.  The rest of the evening was devoted to free time, a leisurely dinner, and a campfire complete with s'mores and great conversations.

Sunday dawned sunny and beautiful, if a little cool. Being teachers, many of us were up early, catching up on communications from the day before and waiting for coffee - we drained the first caraf in no time at all. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast and then had our first session of the day with HIF chef Eric Howton, who shared ideas and resources about sustainable food systems and how he is incorporating unfamiliar foods such as seaweeds into the menus at Hurricane (pickled kelp stipes anyone?). 

Jenn and Val trying to identify a tunicate that was growing on some of the kelp

Bailey demonstrating how to string seeded kelp line to the long line

Now it was time for the highlight of the workshop – checking out the kelp lines! We divided into two groups and rotated through two kelp line experiences. One group hopped into a boat with Silas and motored out to the north end of the island to see and touch the kelp line that was seeded by Deer Isle-Stonington High School students last fall. Teachers were fascinated by the kelp itself and all the other organisms growing on it. Once back ashore, several headed up to the lab to look under the microscope at the colonies of tunicates covering the kelp blades. The other group worked with Bailey on land where she demonstrated the method they’ve developed for ‘practicing’ to install seeded kelp string onto the long line and the specially designed kelp drying racks used once the kelp has been harvested. You can read more about kelp in Bailey’s post from last year.  

Once everyone had visited the kelp lines, we regrouped in the new classroom space to debrief what we’d learned seen and discuss the permitting process. Several teachers had already filed an LPA (Limited Purpose Aquaculture) permit with their students and we all benefited from the range of experience and expertise among our group. Before lunch, we had a short period of free time and it was low tide, so some of us explored the intertidal near Two Bush island while others took advantage of the chance to reflect and enjoy some quiet time in the sun.

At lunch, we were joined by a new group of students from Fryeburg Academy who had just arrived. Some of the Hurricane staff were also busy preparing for the Farm-to-Table dinner that was planned for later on in the afternoon. Hurricane is a vibrant place with multiple projects and programs going on simultaneously, adding to the positive and productive energy of the place.

After lunch we returned to the upper classroom to learn about water quality testing equipment that is available for schools to use and shared other ideas for tools and equipment that could help move our collective aquaculture education work forward. Teachers shared their impressions of the workshop and the next steps they planned to take to incorporate aquaculture into their curriculums. Then it was time to pack up and head back to Vinalhaven for the 2:45 ferry back to the mainland.

There were many ‘best’ parts of this workshop, but of particular note is the commitment of these teachers to travel (significant distances in some cases) and contribute so much of their time (including a precious Saturday) and talents. The collaboration with Hurricane, Herring Gut and the Island Institute, together with the dedication and expertise of the teachers who participated, made for a very interesting and successful workshop.

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