Island Updates

Climate Change, Our Oceans, and Hope!

High School Marine Biology Blog

Written by Teaching Assistant, Anna Bateman

What an exciting week of exploration and scientific inquiry we had with our High School Marine Biology students! The week was themed around climate change and our role as scientists and citizens in the world. We drew connections across all aspects of life on Hurricane to sustainable living and combating climate change.

We had an excellent visit to the Aquaculture site and research intern, Hallie, guided our students through our kelp and scallop farming. During this, along with our lobstering adventure, students were able to connect warming oceans and changing ecosystems with the potential economic impacts on Maine.

In teams, we investigated the impacts of climate change on Hurricane Island specifically. Using Stadia rods, we mapped sea level rise on our shores. We learned that 2 meters of sea level rise would turn our water source, the Quarry, into brackish water. This would have drastic impacts on the ability of people like us to be able to live and learn on Hurricane in the future.

We then put on our chef hats and cooked with kelp (not all enjoyed the end product, but much fun was had in the process!). We talked about the growing prevalence of kelp and other seaweeds in our diet because of their efficiency as a carbon sink. The students were eager to share their dishes (kelp chips, kelp salad, and Irish sea moss pudding) with the rest of the Hurricane community at dinner that night!

Throughout the week, we spent several hours exploring and conducting research in the Intertidal Zone. Each student came up with their own research question and designed a project. Using transects and quadrats, the students were able to get a feel for the field work at the heart of many scientific disciplines and then created a poster to present to all the Hurricane staff. During the project, students were encouraged to continuously return to the question, “Why do we, as marine biologists, care about climate change?”

We concluded the week with a long discussion about climate change solutions and how we can all get involved. Students were open about their feelings of pessimism and it was incredible to watch them inspire each other by emphasizing the importance of change at all levels in many different ways. The final morning, each student shared an action item they were bringing home with them. It was such a hopeful note to end on and I am so confident in their ability to go make change. The future is in good hands!

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Connectivity and Contemplation

High School Island Ecology Blog

Written by Educator, Lilla Fortunoff

A few days into our High School Island Ecology program, I asked a student, “Does hunting count as foraging?”


“Ok.. Why?”

“I knew you were going to say that!”

To the credit of this student, that was maybe the 58th time that Carolina (my co-educator) and I had asked one of our 10 students to explain their thinking to the group, and it was only Wednesday. Trying to encourage students to go deeper into their thought process is important for multiple reasons - it forces them to either strengthen the conviction of their knowledge or opinion with evidence or explanation, or it helps to uncover the questions they may still have about a topic. Asking why over and over again can wear on the patience of the group, but it allows what would have been a two sentence interaction to turn into a complex discussion amongst all the students about their ideas on hunting and foraging. 

This tactic is one that Hurricane Island educators use a lot. We try to help our students make deep connections with the environments they are in and with their peers. We dive in. We learned how to use field guides by trial and error with Hurricane wildflowers first, then moved on to using field guides to forage (not hunt, we determined) for wild edible terrestrial and aquatic plants. We then flocked to the kitchen and prepared chocolate sea moss pudding using carrageenan from a marine algae. We find our food and eat it too. Deep.

In some ways, this goal of depth was futile from the start, especially during a one-week program called Island Ecology. There is so much ground to cover (literally!) in one week. Our students were incredibly flexible as we explored the island. We went from searching for intertidal organisms at the ocean’s edge at low tide to the forests at the highest point of the island (only 160 ft above sea level, but that’s beside the point) where we identified and counted tree species to calculate the biodiversity index of the natural community. We learned about the lobster industry on the Fifth Generation (our small lobster boat) in Hurricane Sound and dip netted the benthic muck in the Ice Pond for freshwater macroinvertebrates. We discovered that we can learn from these macroinvertebrates (lobsters are also technically a macroinvertebrate, albeit marine and not aquatic…) about the qualities of the water they inhabit. Lobsters are sensitive to ocean temperature and freshwater macroinvertebrates have varying sensitivities to pollution. One can make a basic assessment of freshwater quality based on the macroinvertebrates living in the body of water. We could have spent an entire day on this alone, an hour and a half of searching for and identifying macroinvertebrates did not give us very much information, although we did find a caddisfly larvae which is a species that is very sensitive to pollution in its environment so that’s a good sign! This was just one of the many connections we found over the week between different ecosystems on and around Hurricane Island. The students were full of their own questions and were patient as we experimented with different ways to understand the land and sea more fully and make connections between the things they were seeing and learning about. They were patient during our daily quiet solo time before dinner in which they were prompted to write reflectively and creatively in their journals. So many questions, so many connections, the week flew by and we on Hurricane are better for it.

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Welcome to Texas

Written by Sustainability Engineer, Maeve Carlson

Sometimes it feels like the technical world is divided into those that thrive with the theoretical parts of design and those who just want to go out and build the dang thing. The “hands on” learners who want to cut it, drill it, attach it, trouble shoot it, re-cut it, re-attach it, and figure things out as they come up versus the “classroom” learners who would prefer to spend their time thinking through everything on paper before it ever comes into existence.  As a recent graduate of the University of Maine, I have learned that within my field of civil engineering you’ll definitely work with people who are on both sides of that divide. Part of me has always sort of wondered which type of technical brain I have & I recently got the opportunity to test it out…

I was pulled into a project here on Hurricane that already had a problem and solution pretty well defined. The problem was that the garden greenhouse was hot. With unreliable windows, and more importantly no air-flow, on sunny days the cracked thermometer would reach triple digits and the space would transition from a toasty incubator of baby plants to a sauna that the garden team affectionately termed “Texas”. The solution was simple- install a fan. What type of fan do you ask? Obviously a converted radiator cooling fan snagged from the inside of some vehicle that probably wasn’t going to miss it. So to reiterate: the project was to install a car fan into the greenhouse somewhere so it would get the air moving and maybe help with the whole Texas situation. My role was basically anything required to make that dream into a reality. 

I started by asking a bunch of questions (which is totally on-brand for me).  Some were big picture “what’s your vision” type of things for the garden team. Others I could answer myself with a measuring tape or quick Google search. As the design progressed, still others were for our facilities team about how to use a table saw or where I could find stuff in our shop.  Finally the “classroom” portion was done & it was time for the “hands on”. 

I’d say the instillation went pretty smoothly considering my complete lack of experience in essentially everything I was doing. I had LOTS of help, and managed to move the solar panel and associated charge controller, inverter, and battery, cut out and frame up a window in the greenhouse wall, mount the fan and the new electrical panel, and get all the wiring set up. 

It should be noted that I have an entire semester’s worth of information somewhere in my brain from an “Electronics Design” course that I took a year ago. You would think that would be enough to wire a simple fan up to a solar panel, but there was something about the soft buzz of a live battery that had me double checking all my actions with our unofficial electrician/facilities manager, Silas. With his radio assurance that it was (probably) hooked up correctly, it was finally time for the moment of truth: flipping the toggle switch and turning on the fan 

The first time I turned it on, it blew a fuse and nothing happened (honestly, that is also pretty on-brand for me). Later that day I acquired a bigger fuse and snuck up the hill into the garden after dinner. No one was around when I switched it out and flipped the switch for the second time, but I definitely did a pretty embarrassing celebratory dance when I was greeted with a blast of cool air rushing in through my fan.

I don’t know if it was the start-finish ownership of the project or the hours of cutting and sanding down the edges of the plastic greenhouse wall, but at this point I am pretty emotionally invested in that silly fan… Maybe it is just because it was the first of what I hope to be many projects with Hurricane Island that combined my “classroom” background with a “hands-on” approach. Whatever it was, I’m grateful for the opportunity, because it turns out that when it comes to the theoretical vs. applied debate: I like them both. 

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Having (an) Epiphany on Hurricane Island

Written by Teaching Assistant, Anna Fischer

It was a Monday afternoon when 19 students and 3 chaperones from Epiphany School arrived on the Equinox, bringing beautiful sunny skies to end our 3-day streak of rainy weather. Coming all the way from Dorchester, MA this was the school’s second trip to Hurricane Island, however most students were first-time visitors. The staff were greeted with an abundance of energy as soon as the students got off the Equinox. The energy of this group had no lapses from arrival until the time they left 6 days later. At the beginning of the program nerves were flying - both from the education staff and the Epiphany school group. It was the Teaching Assistants' first program of students this season. The TAs had only being here for a few weeks and were still as much in awe of the beauty of this island as the students were. However, time spent with these students helped solidify their love of teaching and demonstrated the wonders and magic of place-based education, especially in a place like Hurricane. 

All were attentive learners and although they proved very loud in their evening games of baseball, moments of discovery were usually followed with moments of particular calmness as they deepened their understanding of the lessons and of the island itself.

They built teamwork and communication skills during rowing and raft building, developed an appreciation for the wonderful marine life we have at hurricane island by exploring the intertidal zone, lobstering, scallops and aquaculture, and focused their efforts as budding environmental stewards during marine debris cleanup. 

Although they weren’t from this neck of the woods, they jumped into every activity they were presented with, pushing themselves and their comfort zones by participating in Hurricane Island classics. For instance, although many started this excursion by saying they would never hold a lobster, once they stepped onto “Fifth Generation”(our small lobster boat) and learned about these bottom-dwelling critters, they needed no prompting to pick one up (carefully) and learn about its anatomy.

The Epiphany students weren’t the only ones in on the fun, Mr. Penny (Assistant Principal), Mr. Deleveaux (Lead Teacher), Ms. Ventricelli and Ms. Destrade (Teaching Fellows) tackled the ropes courses with as much enthusiasm as the students, providing excellent examples of what it means to climb to new heights and push your boundaries. Something really memorable was watching the relationships between the students and their teachers. It’s rare to witness such dedication and passion as the teachers and assistant principal had for educating and mentoring their students. 

Hurricane has a way of teaching people things that they didn’t expect, whether it be where the best place to find crabs in the intertidal is, how to jump and scale over rocks, hold yourself accountable for the health of the environment, or simply how to gain confidence in yourself, we are confident this group learned a lot from their experience at hurricane, because we know we learned a lot from them. 

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Dancing on Hurricane Granite

Written by HICSL Executive Director, Bo Hoppin

What happens when you bring 15 young leaders from around the world for a week at the Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership? Well, how about big ideas for environmental sustainability and a shared understanding for humanity that transcends borders, race, and income? It is likely the most important outcome was the sharing of cultures as we all came together for raucous dance under the stars on Hurricane granite.

Hurricane Island is partnering with United People Global (UPG) to engage young sustainability leaders from around the globe to plan initiatives benefiting their home communities. The first cohort of leaders, ages 18-31 years old, arrived June 16th for the weeklong course on Hurricane. They came from Brazil, Chile, Spain, El Salvador, Singapore, Mauritius, Cameroon, Romania, and corners of the United States to learn from one another and live in our sustainable island community in Penobscot Bay. Two additional cohorts will be arriving in August and September.

I had the great fortune to spend the week with this first cohort as one of two course facilitators. I planned the course curriculum with my colleagues Theo Richardson-Gool from UPG, independent consultant Delia Clark, and our Director of Education Jenn Page. Program participants focused on creating a sustainability initiative for their home communities that addressed the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and UPG’s four pillars. Both documents served as guideposts for project planning where participants connected their project work to at least one SDG and one of UPG’s four pillars.

The week was rich with ideas and conversation about environmental, economic, and social issues. We used the island rowing gigs and raft building challenges to build a stronger understanding of the leadership skills needed to tackle difficult issues. The participants dug into the island’s aquatic ecosystems to more fully connect nature’s ebbs and flows as it works toward equilibrium. Our aquaculture work served as a model for how we can develop resilient technologies to both restore ecosystems and create diverse economic models for those in the fishing industry. We applied the island’s expansive capacity for hands-on immersion in sustainable systems to each participant’s sustainability initiative for their home community.

The initiatives these young leaders came up with include reducing food waste, addressing women’s reproductive health, reducing urban reliance on cars, providing ocean-based environmental education, developing trainings to positively address sustainability and climate change, initiating residential composting programs, and building a database connecting high schools students to internships and jobs.

The week culminated with presentations by each course participant. The high stakes audience included island staff, other course participants, visiting adult leaders from our local communities, and Maine’s Governor Janet Mills. The celebratory atmosphere and follow up questions validated the work of each participant while providing them an opportunity to practice their “pitch” before returning home.

My personal epiphany came with our opening activity. We asked participants to share stories about people who have been very influential in their lives. It was a moving opening as we all learned about people who sent us on these collective journeys. Later that evening Theo commented to me, “You know, it is remarkable. We come from all corners of the world and we all have the same individuals that have made us who we are. Our grandparents, parents, teachers, and friends are who inspire us.” The blaring headlines coerce us toward placing other nations and cultures as competitive foes. Our collective humanity has shared dreams, aspirations, and mentors who motivate each of us to make our communities strong. 

This Sustainability Leadership Initiative, run in partnership with United People Global, is Hurricane’s opportunity to bring the world together to dance on a small island in Penobscot Bay for a bright and positive future. We are so grateful.

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School's out for summer! (but this spring was pretty rad)

As I’ve been enjoying the first few weeks of summer, I have been reflecting on this past school year. For me, a definite highlight was working with the Vinalhaven School for the third year. I collaborated with the middle and high school science teachers and visited the classroom twelve times over the course of the year, in addition to having the students out to Hurricane in the fall and spring. 

The Vinalhaven students are rock stars, and the May and June end of year programming with them was no different. Recently the high school earth science class had been studying sea level rise, so we examined maps of Vinalhaven with sea level rise projections. During their day trip to Hurricane, they used stadia rods to map sea level rise around Hurricane. They thoughtfully considered their visual data as we discussed mitigation and resilience tactics occurring locally and globally.

Vinalhaven high school students use stadia rods to map sea level rise projections on Hurricane.

Vinalhaven high school students use stadia rods to map sea level rise projections on Hurricane.

6th graders are psyched about their seaweed harvest!

6th graders are psyched about their seaweed harvest!

When the 6th grade science class came to Hurricane for their end of year field trip, we eagerly boated out to the kelp aquaculture site and harvested some mature kelp that they had started growing from spores in their classroom last fall. After deploying the kelp off Hurricane’s shores last October, we enjoyed seeing how much it had grown, and we especially enjoyed preparing and cooking our seaweed. Kelp chips are a new favorite! Add lemon juice, garlic, hot pepper, or flavors of your choice before loading into the oven and baking to a crisp.

Kelp chip prep zone

Kelp chip prep zone

Finally in June, the 7th grade class came to Hurricane for the annual three day, two night field trip. A trip that has incorporated middle school leadership preparation and Leave No Trace practice before their fall trip to Katahdin, this trip also included science work throughout and presentations on the third day. Several girls who hadn’t been interested in rowing tried it and then begged to go rowing again on the trip, even talking about starting a rowing team on Vinalhaven. The 7th graders also shared their Leave No Trace hand symbols at dinner circle, and eagerly shared their learning with another teacher later on the trip. 

Microscope time! What types of plankton did we find?

Microscope time! What types of plankton did we find?

On day three, the 8th graders joined us on Hurricane, along with a few teachers and guests from the Vinalhaven Land Trust. The 7-8th grade science classes had been studying kelp all year, from tank maintenance and water quality in the fall, to kelp line design engineering, to product possibilities using seaweed. Throughout the year, we experimented with seaweed-based products and researched product design after a video call with Josh Rogers, owner of Portland’s Heritage Seaweed store. The final day of the Hurricane trip was a chance for the 7-8th graders to present their own products, explaining their revision process, marketing tactics, and sale opportunities. We taste tested seaweed spice blends (great over popcorn!), ranked our favorite seaweed bioplastic air fresheners, saw bioplastic keychains and jewelry, and tried on some seaweed-based body scrubs and beauty products. 

Vinalhaven Land Trust and Hurricane staff members convene for the 7-8th grade product presentations.

Vinalhaven Land Trust and Hurricane staff members convene for the 7-8th grade product presentations.

During the presentations, our guests from the Land Trust, in addition to other Hurricane staff, Vinalhaven teachers, and I were so impressed with the students and their creativity, their ability to describe their iterative product design processes, and their understanding of ecological and economic opportunities and concerns with seaweed. Earlier in the trip as we hiked by Hurricane’s large garden, students recalled how last fall, they had loaded kelp onto the soil to provide nutrients as fertilizer.

I am grateful that the students were able to share their work with so many Hurricane Island staff members and Vinalhaven community members. After a morning of presentations, we were able to explore Hurricane, offering some awesome activity choices (students ranked their top three activities out of Scallops, Lobstering, Facilities/Trail Work, Hiking, and Rowing on the gigs). Everyone was able to participate in 2x45 minute sessions of their top two activities, thanks to staff support and flexibility. I observed many happy, curious students and it was great to see all the students excited about their final activities on Hurricane for the year.

Thank you to the Hurricane Island staff for your commitment to offering high quality, fun, collaborative programming. Special shout out to the kitchen staff for being accommodating and providing delicious food. Thank you to the Vinalhaven Land Trust for your continued financial and logistical support of the Vinalhaven-Hurricane programming. And a big thank you to the Vinalhaven teachers and students. Ms. Baker, Ms. Applegate, and Ms. Cohn, these programs would not be possible without your flexibility, humor, and hard work.

Fresh kelp anyone?!

Fresh kelp anyone?!

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Back with a Bang

Written by island educator, Kat Duvall

The Eaglebrook schedule was packed full of exciting activities, from the moment I met the boys on the dock as they scrambled off the boat to the time they re-boarded the boat for their journey back to the mainland. While some students went lobstering for the first time (and even came back with a few keepers- rare this early in the season!), some students tested their prowess at rock climbing and practiced teamwork through belaying. Hiking was a frequent activity- a favorite included shimmying through “The Crack” as well as “The Other Crack”; two narrow fissures in the granite! All students were given the opportunity to learn about our aquaculture projects on Hurricane. They got to handle the scallops, and asked an immeasurable number of questions about them, including but not limited to: how scallops spawn, how old they get, where and how they live in the wild, what parts get eaten and why, and why we choose to focus on them for our work. Later, I was floored as I watched student teams successfully design, build, and navigate never-seen-before raft models across the Ice Pond. Finishing up the program, we conducted an inspirational marine debris pick-up. I accompanied two students who took it upon themselves to drag an enormous piece of plywood they found at the north end of the island almost a half mile back to our trash facility. Although it took a while, and there was occasional grumbling, the boys were proud to have accomplished such a feat.

I never anticipated having so much fun teaching and exploring during my second program back this season, but the Eaglebrook students were a phenomenal bunch. I was incredibly stunned by the energy they exuded seemingly around the clock, and the ability they had to tackle new adventures and experiences with the zest and enthusiasm of youth. They made my transition back into island life and education as laughter-filled and energizing as it could have been. Looking forward to many more programs like this!

Cole moves through “The Crack”.

Sam learns the ropes on our climbing wall.

Sam learns the ropes on our climbing wall.

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Trash to Treasure

Written by island educator, Isabelle Holt.

Having Portland High School out as a school group was another first for us this spring season! While we have had several Portland High students out as participants in our summer programs it was great to have a cohesive group of students (including one returner who was on the island two summers ago) and teachers together for a wonderful three days of education and fun.

In a program full of highlights something that stood out for me was being able to have students engage with marine debris solutions through making art with the objects we found. Each student made their own mobile using an old wire coat hanger and whatever marine trash they had found. Together we strung up our mobiles into a gallery of sorts that represented the different kinds of tash we find washed up on Hurricane’s shores. In addition to making visual art we also had an impromptu jam session, making music together with whatever rhythms we could coax out of our marine debris.

We spent a lot of time talking about sustainability and Hurricane Island’s sustainable off the grid systems while Portland High was on island. After which they had the rather unfortunate experience of what it’s like when you overuse a resource on Hurricane. Some overly long showers used up all of the water that had been pumped up into the water holding takes from the quarry that day, which led to a great conversation about where our water comes from and how we can reduce water consumption even when we are on the mainland.

The energy and enthusiasm the Portland High students brought to everything they did on the island - from games of Uno with the Cambridge School of Weston students who were also on the island at the time to some seriously quality kitchen dance parties while doing dishes -  will be sorely missed.

Come back soon Portland High!

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