Island Updates


Visiting with Ecologist Bernd Heinrich

Post by Chloe Tremper, Science Educator

Enjoying the views on Hurricane

This past weekend, we had the honor of hosting Bernd Heinrich and his partner Lynn Jennings on island.  Bernd is a well-known naturalist, ultrarunner, and author of over 20 books including Mind of the Raven, Winter World, and Why We Run.  He has been a runner for most of his life but got into ultra running after he turned 40.  He won his first 100k in 1981 with a time of 6:38:21, which was an American record at the time.  He has also held American track records for the 100k, 100 miles, and 24 hour races and holds American ultra records in three age divisions.  Bernd is a professor emeritus at UVM and still teaches a winter ecology course at his cabin in western Maine for a week each January, which is how we got him here on Hurricane.  Chloe, one of our science educators, TAed his winter ecology course and invited him & Lynn to visit. 

We were incredibly lucky to have Lynn out on island as well. Lynn is one of the most accomplished women’s long distance runners in American history.  She is an Olympic medalist (bronze in the 10k at the 1992 games in Barcelona), has won more U.S. women’s cross-country titles than anyone in history, and holds the world record for the indoor 5,000m.  While Lynn is retired from running professionally, she still runs daily and works as the Running Program Director and Coach for the Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Vermont.  

Climbing the spruce trees

As you can imagine, our staff had a blast spending time with these two amazing and humble people. Their two days on Hurricane were chock full of running, exploring, lobstering, nest hunting, writing, tree climbing, cookouts and more.  Lynn even held an informal running workshop for a few of our staff to improve their running form!

On Saturday evening, we all headed over to Vinalhaven where the Hurricane Island Foundation and the Vinalhaven Land Trust co-hosted a talk by Bernd.  Over 90 people showed up to hear Bernd speak about his American chestnut trees. 

Bernd speaks to a packed room in Vinalhaven

American chestnut trees used to dominate the forests of eastern North America up until the early 1900s. This was until chestnut blight arrived in North America – catching a ride on imported Asian chestnut trees arriving to plant nurseries around the U.S.  Within 50 years of its arrival, chestnut blight wiped out almost 4 billion chestnut trees across the east coast.  While a few American chestnut trees survive, most remain small and succumb to blight before they can flower and reproduce.

In the early 1980s, Bernd obtained and planted some American chestnut seeds on his property.  After ten or fifteen years passed, he noticed that his trees were beginning to flower and fruit – this caught him off guard as he had never expected his trees to successfully reproduce since most chestnuts planted today don’t.  The first few years of flowering and fruiting, he was uncertain that the trees were being pollinated because many of the fruits he was finding on the ground did not actually contain nuts.  He came to find out later that this was because chestnuts drop their dud fruits early and keep the successful ones on their branches until later in the season. 

Bernd then began to notice chestnut saplings popping up all over his forests.  Chestnuts have large, heavy nuts that are not very easily dispersed so he thought it curious to be finding seedlings showing up hundreds of yards from the mature chestnuts near his cabin.  After a season of watching wildlife visit his trees, he determined blue jays and red squirrels to be the main dispersers – watching jays fly away with mouths full of nuts and squirrels run off with one nut at a time to stockpile away.

Bernd’s American chestnuts are still thriving and some of the saplings in the forest are beginning to grow fairly large. Hopefully chestnut blight will not find its way to any of Bernd’s trees.  Want to plant some chestnut trees of your own? Check out the American Chestnut Foundation.

We are so grateful to Bernd and Lynn for coming out to Hurricane and sharing such a special weekend with us. We hope they will be back in the future with chestnut seeds!

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Scientists converge on Hurricane for Field Station Network meeting

The Gulf of Maine is a vast expanse covering over 36,000 square miles and bordered by more than 7,500 miles of coastline from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia.  That coastline is home to a variety of scientific institutions, including many small field stations that individually operate with limited faculty, staff, and equipment.  Even though these stations are “small,” don’t underestimate their importance! Each station conducts their own research on a range of unique subjects within the Gulf of Maine, thereby contributing to our global understanding of the world we live in.  Their shared general purpose and location have brought these field stations together under the sentiment that ‘together we can achieve more’ and they converged on Hurricane Island this week to initiate a diverse partnership.

The partnership specifically aims to coordinate the efforts of these small field stations in order to implement shared research and training goals. The funding necessary to start this work was secured by Hurricane Island’s own Cait Cleaver (Director of Science and Research) and Laura Sewall from the Bates-Morse Mountain Conservation Area who together received a $25,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Field Station and Marine Laboratory program.  Senators Susan Collins and Angus King recognized the award in a joint press release where they emphasized the critical importance of the partnership.  According to the joint statement, “this investment will support critical research efforts underway throughout the Gulf of Maine that will help us understand and better protect our environment and the livelihoods of our fishermen.”

The Hurricane Island meeting is just the first step in a 10-year plan to coordinate efforts among these field stations.  This initial phase includes two multi-day meetings this fall for all station directors, scientists associated with the field stations, and scientific advisors.  In this first meeting it was amazing to see the sheer number of different research efforts being conducted by the participants! Facilitator Craig Freshley orchestrated the meeting as scientists from each field station created cards listing their current research endeavors and then organized them on one of our walls.  This visual representation clearly helped identify the research gaps that existed across the field stations and helped focus the team as they decided on joint research priorities.  Another major outcome from this first effort was the formation of working groups that will be tackling particular issues in preparation for the next meeting in November at the Bates’ field station.  Groups were formed to address questions that arose surrounding data sharing and management, equipment, protocols, public outreach and education, and collaborative training and long-term capacity building.  These committees have their work cut out for them over the next two months and will deliver their findings to the whole group in advance of the next meeting.

And all that is just the beginning! After the next meeting, the lead field stations will continue their efforts and develop a 10-year strategic plan that will allow the small field stations to coordinate their work and fully leverage their capacity as a network.  The passion and dedication of the individuals present on Hurricane Island this past week was palpable and it is clear that their work is incredibly important and timely.  Senators Collins and King recognized that “as the environmental and economic impacts of warming waters and sea level rise continue to ripple through Maine’s coastal communities, marine research has never been more important to the future of our state.”  On an even broader scale, recent research indicates that the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of the world’s oceans, positioning the Gulf as a true ‘living laboratory’ that can provide crucial insights into the effect of global climate change.

The hard work of keeping these scientists caffeinated was more than worth the effort and the entire Hurricane Island community felt enriched by their presence.  It was great to see old friends and make new ones and to learn so much about the incredible work that is already being done to understand and sustain our Gulf of Maine.  It is encouraging to think that this is only the beginning of even greater things to come and you can be sure you will find more information in our blog as the partnership between the field stations develops over the next decade.  In the words of Margaret Mead,  “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

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Strengthening Coastal Partnerships

It has been a busy time for collaborative meetings!  In the spirit of being super efficient, Alice and I managed to fit in three major meetings over the course of four epic days off the island last week.  The first two days were spent at the Island Institute in Rockland meeting first with Education Director Yvonne Thomas about our joint efforts to develop aquaculture curriculum and secondly with Yvonne and a host of other movers and shakers with the Eastern Maine Skippers Program.  Hurricane recently received a grant from EPSCoR’s Sustainable Ecological Aquaculture Network (SEANET) program to develop three aquaculture sites on the island: first for sugar kelp and later for oysters and scallops.  More specifically, we have money for students to set up these sites.  The goal of the program is to work with local schools and other local partners, such as the Island Institute and Herring Gut Learning Center, to bring aquaculture education and real life management of aquaculture sites into the hands of middle and high school students.  We are ramping up to develop and pilot our curriculum this upcoming school year with a plan to get students to put their own sugar kelp aquaculture site in the water in the spring.  These will be sites that students can monitor and modify for years to come, enabling students to not only cultivate these areas, but also collect data that can be widely distributed to any students, fishermen, or researchers who have an interest.

Students during the 2014  Eastern Maine Skippers kickoff event spent time in Hurricane's intertidal doing green crab research.

After some great conversations with Yvonne, we launched into a full day meeting at the Institute with a variety of educators and other stakeholders associated with the Eastern Maine Skippers Program (EMSP). This program an amazing effort to bring project based learning into local high schools to help strengthen student engagement, specifically around topics and training critical to Maine’s coastal economy. Penobscot East Resource Center (PERC) based out of Stonington is spearheading the effort and Deer Isle-Stonington High School (DISHS) is one of the high schools pioneering the curriculum with a full in-school program.  Many other high schools up and down the coast of Maine in fishing Zone C (North Haven to Eastport) participate as part of an extended regional program and adapt the curriculum as it fits within their own school structure. Some schools implement the program as an after-school component, some as a full class, and some integrate material into existing classes, but all students associated with EMSP get an opportunity to learn broader skills and knowledge associated with the fishing industry. The program has a three pronged approach, giving students the skills they need to operate on the water, at the table with other stakeholders, and in the office as they manage their own assets. This comprehensive view of what it takes to be a successful fisherman or to understand the complexities of the fishing industry in general is one of the greatest assets of the program and what makes it so appealing to students as well as community partners looking to develop and support coastal youth as true stakeholders in their futures.

Hurricane Island will host the second kickoff event (read about last years event here) for EMSP students and teachers at the beginning of the school year, allowing all participants to meet and get to know each other in addition to laying the foundation for the year long project that they are about to embark on.  Last year the project tackled the invasive green crab problem, this year the project looks at the lobster industry specifically asking the students: Who or what eats/buys lobster? What impact can we/I have?  The first question allows a lot of freedom for students to choose to look at lobsters from an ecological perspective or from a more purely economical perspective. The question about ‘what impact they can have’ is similarly open to student interpretation, allowing a variety of options for students to really dig into the material from a standpoint that is relevant and interesting to them.  It will be great to see what the students come up with this year for their individual projects when they come to the retreat at the beginning of October.  Check back here for updates!

Students share the marine debris art sculptures they created during the 2014 Pathways 101 program on Hurricane

Our final two days of meetings were hosted by Deer Isle-Stonington High School (DISHS) itself and we got a chance to meet with the teachers and other community partners associated with their Pathway program.  Pathways started out as a Marine Studies track for students who wanted to specialize their education in preparation for any post-secondary option dealing with marine related issues.  DISHS has also blended Pathways with EMSP using EMSP as an “honors” track that more specifically gears marine studies for students intending to pursue a commercial fishing license.  This year the Pathways program is expanding to include an Arts Pathway in addition to the Marine Studies and the goal is to add a Healthcare related track in the future.  It was amazing to hear about some of the cool classes associated with each of the tracks!  Most of the Pathways classes are team taught allowing options like Chemistry through Art or Marine Studies Health and Phys Ed., combinations that really demonstrate the relevancy of the topics to students.

I got to spend most of my time with Seth Laplant who is adapting a Biology class to the Marine Studies track and has a lot of programming planned that takes advantage of local resources.  Monitoring bacterial colonies on the shoreline, looking at green crab genetics, blood worm osmosis, and performing marine organism necropsies make this class not only super relevant but also super fun!  It was great seeing all the people who were invested in making these programs work. Island Heritage Trust, Rural Aspirations, Bowdoin College, Opera House Arts of Stonington, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, and PERC were just some of the people and organizations that were represented over the course of the two days.

Even though it was an exhausting session of meetings, we left with a much better picture of all of the wonderful collaborations going on up and down the coast and we are extremely excited to be part of them.  Over the next couple months we will be solidifying aquaculture curriculum and planning for the EMSP and Pathways kickoffs on Hurricane.  Updates on everything will show up here so keep an eye out to learn more! 

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Penobscot Bay Stewards

Post by Oakley Jackson

This past Tuesday (May 26, 2015) the Penobscot Bay Stewards joined us for a sunny tour of Hurricane Island. This was the Steward's third annual visit to the island and we were happy to see many new faces along with a few familiar ones. The author of The Town That Disappeared, Eleanor Motley Richardson, accompanied the group and led a highly informative history hike on the granite-quarrying boom that took place on Hurricane between 1875 and 1914.  Although I have read up on Hurricane’s history and often deliver a similar tour to students, I was thrilled to learn several new interesting facts from Eleanor.  I now have several more ghost stories to tell around the campfire, including a tale of two people drowning on the ledge off of the main pier in a thick fog. They could be heard yelling for help, but no one was able to rescue them. 

I also learned that Hurricane and the surrounding islands were part of a microcontinent that collided with the mainland during the Paleozoic era. This fact adds to the unique lure of the islands and the drifting continent is made more mystical by the fact that it was named Avalonia. The Stewards were all intrigued to learn about the island’s colorful history as well as our current use of Hurricane as the setting for bringing together vibrant communities of teachers and learners. We look forward to welcoming back the Stewards next year and are hopeful that some of them will visit before then.  

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Volunteer Day: April 25

We kicked off our volunteer days on Hurricane Island for 2015 with a particularly early one, on Saturday April 25. The fact that our winter had been so long and snowy made it seem even earlier than it would on any other year. And as we walked the trails, getting reacquainted with the island we know and love, we did find many banks of snow remaining on Hurricane, and not only in the deep woods.

Fourteen volunteers, ages 7 to 85, joined seven staffers on Hurricane on this chilly morning, and we could actually see a few snowflakes in the air before we boarded M/V Equinox in Rockland, along with 18 bales for this year’s straw bale gardens just up from the Dining Hall. We had volunteers that had lived on Hurricane for years, and we had volunteers who had never set foot on Hurricane, but everyone was perfectly prepared for whatever mother nature delivered, and she delivered us a day perfect for the projects we had planned.

We didn’t have our floats in at the dock yet, so it was up the ladder at the dock for this group. The difference between getting to Hurricane so early in the season compared with, say, October, is so palpable, yet hard to define. Sure, the light is a little different in May with the solstice less than two months away, the vegetation is different, but if you kept constant all those little details—took the same number of people, chose a chilly October day with gray skies like this late April day, there is a psychic quality to the island that makes it just feel different. It’s as if the island itself has been hibernating, like the echoes of an entire season of students and visitors that are so fresh in October, so vibrant and ringing, have long faded away to winter’s quiet, contemplative state. There’s a hush to the island, and everyone senses that, so that we find ourselves almost tiptoeing and whispering.

We started our volunteer day out right: with a coffee break! and then mustered in the barn to hear about the day’s projects: oiling stall doors in the new showerhouse, clearing brush and cutting back branches from the perimeter trail, turning over the gardens in the Meadow, hauling straw bales up to the gardens, re-shingling a side of the infirmary, making repairs to the floats before they are put in for the season, clearing brush, and a new one: drilling holes in birch logs and hammering in plugs that contain mushroom spores. We’re going to grow oyster mushrooms!

Our new cook for 2015, Micah Conkling, prepared a wonderful, hearty meal for us. Jobs were swapped after lunch, and the weather continued to cooperate. It warmed up enough to remove parkas and hats. It was truly a wonderful day: we completed many projects, we explored and woke up the island, and new friends were made. 

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Teacher Day 2015

Greetings from Hurricane Island…Spring is finally springing!

Last week we were lucky enough to celebrate Spring and Earth Day 2015 with a group of dedicated, inspiring individuals…teachers! A total of 13 teachers from 8 different schools in Maine and Massachusetts joined us for a trip out to the Island for our annual Free Teacher Day, a program we offer to give teachers the chance to learn about our facilities and the programming we offer on-Island. We were also lucky enough to be in Mother Nature’s good graces for the day as we had lots of sun, no rain and light wind all day. It was only my second time out to the Island and the first for many of our teachers, so we all felt thankful and inspired to be sharing such a beautiful day in a magical place!

We had a smooth ride out to the Island aboard the F/V Equinox, arriving on the Island around 10:30. Upon arrival, we took a moment to introduce ourselves to each other and have the necessary safety orientation, presented by HIF’s own Skillful Safety Sam Hallowell. Following safety, Jammin’ Josie Gates, Awesome Alice Anderson and Outstanding Oakley Jackson took us through the facilities of Hurricane Island, highlighting our off-the-grid infrastructure of solar panels and composting toilets, our gardens and compost, and introducing teachers to the teaching spaces and dorms.

After filling our bellies with a delicious lunch, provided by Merry Micah Conkling, and filling our brains with discussion of the possibilities a place like Hurricane provides for educators, we took a more in-depth tour of the grounds outside of the campus and learned about the history of Hurricane Island. We visited the remains of the Church, took a break at the Ice Pond and hiked up to our water holding tanks to talk about our gravity-fed water system. We then made our way down to the cliffs (where we captured this fabulous shot) and continued on to view the quarry and rock climbing routes, all the way sharing ideas, admiring the scenery and learning bits about the Island, it’s ecology and how we run programs.

We ended with a gathering for a short question and answer session and a chance to reflect on the day’s experience. We then re-boarded the Equinox and departed the Island feeling rejuvenated, inspired and privileged to share a day with such dedicated, enthusiastic educators that endeavor to provide students with unique experiences, inside and outside of the classroom. Just another fabulous day on Hurricane Island!

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Eastern Maine Skippers at the Fishermen's Forum

Every year March rolls around and fishermen, marine scientists, and industry members from along the coast of Maine gather in Rockland at the annual Fishermen's Forum. This is the 40th year this event has been running, and it is a great opportunity for everyone to connect about the major challenges and innovative ideas to address changes in Maine's fisheries.

After the fall kickoff event on Hurricane Island, the Eastern Maine Skippers Program students have been busy developing green crab project plans to implement this spring. The Fishermen's Forum was a great opportunity for all of the school groups to gather and share their project updates to the broader community. Student's from all of the schools (North Haven, Vinalhaven, Deer Isle Stonington, George Stevens Academy, Narraguagus, and Jonesport-Beals) presented on their project ideas, and the whole group will be giving a final presentation about their approach to a green crab solution on May 28th at the Grand Auditorium in Ellsworth. Below is a summary of the range of project ideas that students presented on during their slot at the forum:

North Haven students have proposed two main projects around creating fertilizer from green crabs: one group is going to determine the best ratio of green crab meal to soil for optimal growing, and the other group is going to be looking at the opportunity of green crabs as being a natural nematode suppressant and will be comparing the quantity and quality of the produce grown from corn, beans, and tomatoes that are grown with green crab added to the soil vs. their control.

Vinalhaven students have focused their efforts on testing the efficiency of traps and bait in capturing green crabs, and also on developing creative cooking ideas to make green crabs a new tasty menu item. One of the student groups is going to trial a trap used by Unity College students at a variety of depths and trying different types of bait to determine the most efficient way to harvest green crabs. Another group is attempting a new cooking method which involves a two-part process of softening the crab shell first in a vinegar brine, flavoring with teriyaki, and then smoking the crabs whole. Part of the cooking challenge will be for students to determine if there is a preferable size for the crabs which results in a soft shell and positive taste results. 

Deer Isle-Stonington High School students are banding together to assess the real impacts of green crabs by asking "How do green crabs affect the lobster industry in the waters around Deer Isle?" Students will be documenting where and in what densities they are finding green crabs, determining if green crabs eat lobsters and between what size range, if green crabs and lobsters are competing for the same food, and whether the local lobster settlement is lower because of green crabs. Students plan to collect their data using permitted ventless traps, and looking at the population ratio of green crabs to juvenile lobsters within their survey area.

George Stevens Academy students are planning to see if crushed green crab powder can be added to grass fertilizer and marketed to local golf courses like the Blue Hill Country Club. They will be testing nutrient levels in the soil with the addition of green crabs, and, if their project succeeds, look into larger distribution opportunities with their product. First, they are in the market for a dehydrator, and are waiting for the snow to melt so they can set their traps!

Narraguagus High School is planning to test three different green crab traps to determine the most cost effective and efficient design-- one used by the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) in a 1950s green crab survey, one triangular trap design, and one design they are still working on. With the help of donated supplies from Brooks Trap Mill they are going to be fishing these traps and comparing which fishes best. These students have also been surveying local community members, including wormers, clamdiggers, and gathering testimonials about the scope of the green crab problem, and its potential long-term impacts on important coastal industries.

Jonesport-Beals High School students have also been exploring compost and food opportunities for green crabs. A few highlight ideas include developing green crab rangoon, green crab cakes, green crab sushi, and a specialty green crab spice which could flavor seafood and soups--the spice would be produced by cooking, dehydrating, and grinding up green crabs into a powder! 

We were impressed with the quality of the presentations from students-- their project ideas have matured so much from the fall, and students delivered a polished presentation to a packed room! We wish the Skippers the best of luck as they launch into their projects, and hope that there will be a taste-testing opportunity during the May event to sample green crab recipes!

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Common Ground Fair

We thoroughly enjoyed having an information booth set up at the Common Ground Fair this past weekend. Fair goers found us in the Environmental Concerns tent along with Unity College and the Appalachian Mountain Club. The fair was a great chance to meet representatives from other Maine schools, and make connections with students who are interested in both our programs and college internships. We met many past Outward Bound staff and students who were excited to see that the island has been brought back to life with a guiding mission for science research and education and as well as building a sustainable educational community on Hurricane. We hope to see all those who we met out on the island!  

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