Island Updates

Green Crabs

Waynflete Sustainable Ocean Studies

One of the settlement plates

Last week students from the Sustainable Ocean Studies program run in partnership by Waynflete School and Chewonki, joined us on days 16-19 of their 24-day program exploring ocean sustainability along coastal Maine. 

Students arrived on Vinalhaven via the ferry after traveling up from Deer Isle where they had spent an earlier portion of their trip sea kayaking. Everyone finally made it to Hurricane late on July 10th just in time for dinner and to settle down for the evening.

The next day started a two-and-a-half-day marathon of science including everything from intertidal exploration to data collection to designing a marine research project focused on green crabs. 

Back in early May we installed several settlement plates on the end of our docks which have been submerged through a busy spring season of plankton settlement events. One of the first projects students tackled was to pull the settlement plates out and take a look at the marine communities that had colonized. After bringing the settlement plates into the lab, students took a closer look at them under dissecting scopes and collected data on the species found on each plate.

Taking a closer look at the settlement plates under a dissecting scope

Settlement plates are one tool marine researchers use to detect the presence of non-native marine species, and to also gain a broader understanding of the distribution and abundance of marine organisms. By hauling the plates periodically over the summer season it is also possible to gain a better understanding of the timing of different settlement events as well as the growth rates of newly settled organisms. We look forward to continuing to deploy settlement plates off Hurricane, and also to potentially deploy plates off Vinalhaven so we can compare organisms found at each site.

Other dock-side activities included collecting plankton to see what organisms are currently floating in Hurricane Sound, capturing nearby floating jellies to take a closer look, and jumping into the icy water to scrape organisms off a portion of one of the pilings to see if they differed from the organisms found on the nearby settlement plates.

Intertidal scavenger hunt team

After a busy morning on the dock, we switched gears and headed over to the intertidal area on the South end of Hurricane which connects to Two Bush Island at low tide. Once settled, students split into two teams for an intertidal scavenger hunt to see who could find the most creatures--everything from algae, molluscs, echinoderms, crustaceans, and other invertebrates. We flipped rocks like crazy and were able to find over 40 different species--some of the most exciting discoveries included some juvenile lobsters, a rock gunnel, and nudibranchs.

Lobster fishing with Jason Day

Afterwards students hopped straight onto Vinalhaven lobsterman Jason Day's lobster boat for an afternoon of fishing. We caught a few lobsters which had recently molted and were in the process of regenerating new limbs, and students enjoyed spearing West Coast rockfish fillets through the eyes to bait the traps. We also briefly towed the plankton net off Jason's boat for some more data to compare to our dock-side sampling.

After a jam-packed day, we took a break in the heat of the afternoon for some well-deserved free time and most everyone jumped in the ocean to cool off. One final night time plankton tow gave us enough information to get a snapshot of the organisms that make up the base of the food chain in Hurricane Sound right now. Students kept up their energy into the night and identified tons of organisms including larval sea cucumbers, larval crabs, and barnacle molts.

Tethered green crabs awaiting deployment

The following morning we were joined by HIF science advisor Noah Oppenheim who talked with students about his trajectory to becoming a marine scientist, and then helped students design a marine tethering experiment to see if green crabs faced higher predation rates based on size, sex, or time of day. Students designed a tethering line, and deployed 20 green crabs tied to the line with monofilament. The crabs were first measured, sexed, and assessed for their claw condition. The experiment was deployed in Valley Cove in the afternoon, hauled after 6 hours, re-baited and then re-deployed for a nighttime treatment. A small but stalwart team assembled at 3am to retrieve the nighttime deployment.

It was a treat to have such an enthusiastic group of young marine scientists out on Hurricane, and I am sure we will hear about their accomplishments in years to come as leaders of the marine science and conservation movement. Hopefully we will also see these students again as researchers out on the island for a summer field season! 

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Eastern Maine Skippers kickoff green crab project

Students gather on the high cliffs

Students gather on the high cliffs

On September 28th and 29th, forty-one students from six Maine coastal and island high schools (Deer Isle-Stonington, George Stevens Academy, Vinalhaven, North Haven, Narraguagus, and Mount Desert Island) gathered on Hurricane Island in Penobscot Bay to kickoff the second year of the Eastern Maine Skippers Program (EMSP) and their collaborative, year-long project addressing the question, “How can the impact of the green crab population be controlled in a way that conserves the marine ecosystem and encourages new industry?” The day and a half program was organized and hosted by Hurricane Island with additional staff support from Penobscot East Resource Center (PERC) and the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR). The event introduced students to the green crab issue in Maine and was jam-packed with hands-on activities from learning about field sampling techniques to developing a marketable product made from green crabs to discussing elements underlying effective group work and communication. 

Skippers collecting data in the field.

Skippers collecting data in the field.

This event provided students with an opportunity to connect in-person, fostering a generation of fishermen who know how to collaborate and communicate with each other despite being from different homeports. Before beginning fieldwork, students worked with Alice, HIF Science Educator, Noah Oppenheim, a graduate student at the University of Maine, School of Marine Sciences, Carla Guenther, Senior Scientist at PERC and Les White from the Maine DMR to identify different sampling techniques that could be used in assessing green crab abundance in the intertidal zone. After much deliberation and discussion, each group of students generated a scientific question about green crabs and identified an appropriate sampling method to test their question during low tide on Monday morning. After collecting data in the intertidal zone, students reflected on the process and discussed the pros and cons of their approach, analyzed data collected, and presented their findings to the larger group.

"I liked that we could go in the field and gather data for a project we designed instead of using somebody else's data from a textbook.  Doing hands-on learning makes you want to do the work more," said Elliott Nevells, a 9th grade student at Deer Isle-Stonington High School and EMSP participant.

Cooking with green crabs

Cooking with green crabs

On Sunday afternoon, students worked with peers from other schools to create an edible dish from green crabs. This activity provided students the opportunity to explore the potential for developing marketable products made from green crabs. Prior to the taste-testing contest, each group delivered a pitch describing their product, how it was made, who they were marketing it to, and the asking price. A panel of judges, made up of teachers, voted on their favorite dish.  The Hurricane Island Chowder dish won “Best Taste”, while the Green Crab Mac & Cheese dish won “Best Pitch,” and the Fried Green Crab & Dip was awarded “Most Creative Dish.”

"Events like this that bring students and future fishermen together from six coastal high schools are a great way to leverage the traditional knowledge and expertise that exists in our fishing communities in a way that will help our students learn the skills needed for any option they choose after high school- both college and career,” said Todd West, the Deer Isle-Stonington High School Principal. West has been leading the formation of the Eastern Maine Skippers Program, working with teachers and community partners to create the year-long curriculum for this network of schools and students.

Throughout the remainder of the school year, students will continue their investigation of green crabs in their own schools.  The green crab project will provide students the opportunity to learn and practice important skills such as active citizenship, public speaking, interpreting and using data, and applied science and engineering that will prepare them for modern fishing careers as well as post-secondary education. The project has further application beyond their high school education, however, as students are conducting real-world research that researchers and regulators can use as they seek to sustain fisheries as a viable component of our coastal economy, which is critical to Downeast communities.

We are grateful for the generous contribution from our bank, The First, for supporting Maine students and helping make this program possible.

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