Island Updates

Field Station Network

Organization of Biological Field Stations Meeting

Meeting participants take time to explore the North Pole Basin with Ian Bicknell, RMBL Director

Meeting participants take time to explore the North Pole Basin with Ian Bicknell, RMBL Director

At the end of September, I was fortunate enough to spend a week at the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab in Gothic, CO, attending the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS) Annual Meeting. OBFS is a network that supports over 300 field stations around the world with the mission “to help member stations increase their effectiveness in supporting critical research, education, and outreach programs. We pursue this goal in a manner that maximizes diversity, inclusiveness, sustainability, and transparency.” Individuals are able to trouble shoot and problem solve by accessing the wealth of knowledge contained in this network and the annual meeting provides the opportunity for face-to-face interactions, which leads to collaborations and partnerships. I traveled to the meeting with Laura Sewall, Director of the Bates Morse Mountain Conservation Area and Coastal Center at Shortridge, and my co-PI on the NSF Field Station and Marine Laboratory planning grant. We used the meeting as a venue to gather ideas and make connections to further formalize the network of Gulf of Maine field stations, marine labs, and larger research institutions.

I attended a session on how to develop programs with community colleges to increase field science opportunities to those who may not otherwise have access - Hurricane would be a great venue! Other sessions offered ideas on fundraising events and efforts to supplement operating revenue to keep a field station financially viable over time and establishing and maintaining long-term monitoring projects with the aim of providing services to surrounding communities and the broader scientific community.

Miles O’Brien, a freelance journalist and science correspondent for the PBS News Hour, and Mark Ruffalo, an actor and environmental activist who started Water Defense, connected to the meeting through Skype to speak to the entire group. They spoke about their experiences communicating science to the public and the dire need for increasing science literacy. They emphasized the importance of field stations as providing access to nature and in understanding our world through the scientific process.  

Overall, it was an incredible week in a beautiful place and I am reenergized to continue the work to create field science opportunities for middle and high school students through career scientists on Hurricane Island.

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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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