Island Updates

marine research

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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