Island Updates

Really Cool Kelp

Ask any 6th or 7th grader from Northport’s Edna Drinkwater School, and they will likely tell you that kelp is pretty cool. How did these students get so psyched about seaweed? It started in September, when our Research Assistant, Bailey Moritz, unrolled a twelve foot long frond of kelp and told the students they would grow some of their own this year.

They began in the Northport classroom as Bailey guided them in setting up a kelp nursery using a fish tank. They used reproductive, or sorus, tissue of wild kelp to release single celled spores that would eventually grow into large fronds of kelp. By putting spools of string into the tank with the spores, the spores were able to attach to the string and start their growth process.

In October, the students brought their string (with the tiny kelp growing on it!) out to Hurricane Island to deploy it in Penobscot Bay for the winter. At our aquaculture site, we have two buoys delineating the ends of a horizontal, submerged rope on which we grow the kelp. The students wrapped the string, or spore line around the rope so that as the kelp grew, it would have a bigger surface onto which its holdfast could attach.

Learning about seaweed in the classroom prepared the students for their challenge for the field trip: design an experiment to conduct with their growing kelp line. The students wanted to determine how to maximize the amount of kelp grown in a given space, so they divided the submerged line in half, treating the two halves differently so they could compare the outcomes. On one half, they wrapped their spore line around the submerged rope once, which is standard practice in kelp aquaculture. On the second half of the line, they wrapped the spore line around the rope twice, with the second wrap on top of the first wrap, so the rope had twice as many kelp babies. Some students hypothesized that the double wrapped string would produce MORE kelp because it was starting with more babies in the same area. Other students hypothesized that the double wrapped string would produce LESS kelp because the babies would be too dense, competing for resources and preventing each other from growing as much.

Students measure water quality at the Hurricane Island dock


After the October field trip to Hurricane, the students would wait until the end of April to return and check on their kelp. In the meantime, their teacher, John Van Dis, tied kelp into their math and science curriculum, keeping the students busy and learning. They calculated food miles, or how far food travels before it reaches one’s plate, of their kelp compared to the foods in their lunch boxes. They tested recipes and products utilizing kelp, thinking about a potential market for the kelp they would harvest. They remade the popular board game “Settlers of Catan” into “Growers of Kelp,” emphasizing resources such as sun, sorus tissue, and permits needed to grow kelp in Maine. They were even filmed by the crew of the Ocean Frontiers III film, and were featured as movie stars in the premier at Belfast’s Colonial Theater (Click here for film). During the public discussion panel after the film, students were articulate in describing the role of kelp and its local “halo effect” for minimizing ocean acidification.

As Hurricane’s Science Educator, I enjoyed hearing about all the hard work that occurred during the year. I love to see how teachers can leverage the Hurricane Island partnership into a greater, longer-term classroom learning opportunity. The first field trip to Hurricane did not occur in isolation; it is a component of a year-long curricula with kelp as a focal point. The learning that occurred in the classroom throughout the year not only deepened the students’ interest in kelp and their project, it helped them get excited for another field trip to Hurricane in late April.


Northport students on Hurricane Island!

Northport students on Hurricane Island!

During the April Hurricane trip, students rotated through stations, recording data and harvesting kelp from both the single and double-wrapped sections of the kelp line. They measured the density of kelp on each line and harvested some to later measure frond length, width, and area from each condition. Students combined these data with water quality tests, assessing pH, nitrate levels, temperature, and turbidity. Preliminary data analysis suggests that the kelp fronds grew larger in the single-wrapped section of the kelp line.

After a long morning of focused work during the April field trip, the young Northport scientists took a hard-earned lunch break and enjoyed a perimeter hike of the Island. They saw remnants of Hurricane’s quarry town,  marveled at ocean views, and picked up marine trash along the way.

Upon returning to the main pier, the students were happy and tired, carrying coolers of their harvested kelp to measure in their Northport classroom. The Hurricane Team wishes them luck as they continue to analyze data and work on product development with their kelp!

Island exploration

Island exploration


This project would not have been possible without funding from Maine SeaGrant, in addition to the enthusiastic support of teacher John Van Dis, his school administration, and the greater Northport community.


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