Science for Everyone

Phytoplankton Monitoring

Guest post by Research Technician Bailey Moritz

Taking our first phytoplankton sample of the season at our aquaculture site

As waters begin to warm (although it may not feel that way yet!) and nutrients become more abundant, phytoplankton are beginning to bloom off our Maine shores. Seen under the microscope, these tiny algae that make up the base of the ocean food chain form a beautiful kaleidoscope of varied shapes. Some take on the appearance of beaded necklaces or tiny leaves, while others call food to mind with their turnip or pizza slice like forms. However, a number of species can produce toxins that, when consumed by humans eating filter-feeding shellfish, prove quite harmful. “Red tide” as it is commonly called when concentrations are high enough to change the surface water color, builds up in the mussels or clams that feed on it for several weeks. If eaten by someone, the built-up toxin can cause paralytic, diuretic, or amnesic shellfish poisoning (PSP, DSP, or ASP), depending on the phytoplankton species present.

Target species (yellow) to keep an eye out for

The Department of Marine Resources (DMR) regularly tests sites up and down the coast to make sure that an area with a harmful algal bloom will be closed to shellfish harvesting in time to minimize health risks. They rely on volunteer monitoring efforts to make this a success, and we got certified as official phyto-samplers last week. Out on Hurricane, we are sampling weekly at our aquaculture site to report back to DMRs public health branch on the presence of any of these potentially harmful species. If the water is consistently clear of harmful algal blooms over time, we may eventually be able to consume the scallops that we grow here.

An array of different species, including thin chains of Pseudo-nitzschia

Our first sample this week had plenty to look at and I found it so rewarding and fun to learn the species identification. There was a surprising amount of Pseudo-nitzschia which can lead to ASP, although the toxin is not always produced. That will be something to keep an eye on and we sent a report in to DMR. Monitoring coastal waters for changes in phytoplankton populations is critical for protecting those of us who enjoy eating shellfish, the people who grow or harvest them, and to stay vigilant for new species that are moving northward due to climate change.

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Research field season wrap up

Hurricane Island’s research team had quite the field season. We initiated a few new projects while continuing our archaeology efforts and conducted the fourth year of surveys for the Collaborative Scallop Project. Overall, it was a fantastic island season with an incredible team. As always, our Director of Marketing, Phoebe Jekielek, joined us above and below the water throughout the season. Bailey Moritz, a recent graduate of Bowdoin College was our seasonal research assistant and Jessie Batchelder, a current senior at Colby College, was our research intern. They will both be greatly missed! Some of the season’s highlights included:

The Collaborative Scallop Project

The tagged scallops from our spat bags whose growth we will be tracking

In July and August, we conducted our SCUBA dive surveys on Muscle Ridge and Ocean Point. Our goals were to document juvenile and adult densities and to collect individual scallops for tissue samples for genetics and the shells for a growth rate analysis. For the first time ever, we completed our dive days by the end of August!! In past years, we’ve had to do dive surveys through the fall and even as late as November 29th, so this was a very welcomed change and speaks to the field team we had in place. In mid-September, three technicians from Dr. Stokesbury’s lab at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s School for Marine Science & Technology traveled to Maine to do three days of drop camera work. They were able to take photographs at all of the stations that were sampled last year and Bailey learned how to work the winch on the scallop boat, F/V Julianne. On September 22, we deployed our Muscle Ridge spat bags, these in addition to four lines on Ocean Point at the end of August. Looking forward to more spat in 2017!

The drop camera surveys were supported with funding from the Patagonia Retail Store in Freeport. The staff from the store also got to come to Hurricane Island over two days this Summer to volunteer their time to help with the project. During that time, we were able to process a number of the shell samples we’ve collected over the years as well as work through some of our spat bags from 2015. They were an incredible help and I think enjoyed their time on the island. We were so thankful for that funding opportunity and wehope they’ll come back next year!

Bailey, Jessie and I engaged 90 students participating in nine different Hurricane Island education programs in the Scallop Project, either through processing shell samples or spat bags. In addition, we hosted 80 people in partnership with the Vinalhaven Land Trust for a morning on Hurricane where they learned about the Scallop Project as well as other initiatives. These were great ways to get the word out about our project!

Currently, I am working on analyzing data from the past four years and reviewing papers that talk about the effect of closed areas on target species. We hope to understand what the effect of the closure has been to date and whether or not we should plan to continue monitoring both the Muscle Ridge and Ocean Point closed areas. Jessie decided to take on a portion of the analysis as an independent project and possibly an honors thesis this year at Colby. Specifically, she is working on analyzing data from our spat bags.

The Stokesbury crew is busy analyzing data from the drop camera surveys and Sarah Kingston, a post doctoral fellow at Bowdoin College, has agreed to start the initial genetic analysis. Stay tuned for a summary of results as they become available!


We continue to move forward with developing an aquaculture operation on Hurricane Island. We envision aquaculture as an opportunity to integrate our education programs with our research efforts. We renewed our Limited Purpose Aquaculture (LPA) for growing sugar kelp. Bailey and Jenn, our Director of Education, worked with students from Northport Middle School to deploy seed lines that the students had grown in their classroom at the site on Hurricane in October. We also put juvenile scallops collected in our spat bags from Muscle Ridge into two bottom cages where we hope they’ll survive the winter. Bailey and I tagged 100 individual scallops to track their growth throughout the year.

To further support our aquaculture operation, we participate in water quality and phytoplankton monitoring in partnership with the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR). We collect a water sample and a phytoplankton sample on a bi-weekly basis from May through November and send our samples to the DMR lab in Boothbay Harbor. The water quality program, which is a state-wide effort through DMR, monitors for E. coli and the phytoplankton program monitors for biotoxins that can cause Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning and other public health-related problems. Our hope is that through this monitoring, we will be able to reclassify the waters around Hurricane to allow us to consume the species we grow through aquaculture. We will likely not have an issue with E. coli; however, harmful algal blooms could be an issue in the summer months and so, we may have to abide by seasonal closures.


Our Summer 2016 archaeology site

We continue to move forward with documenting the quarry era on Hurricane through archaeology. Fred Koerber, our lead archaeologist and career history educator in the Brunswick school system, gave a talk on Vinalhaven in July. Forty-four people attended to hear a summary of findings-to-date derived from a field week in 2015 and independent research at historical societies and libraries. The research team supported a second field week in early August 2016. We focused our efforts on a site at the north end of Hurricane near Gibbons Point. Fred was interested in determining if the site was the same time period as the quarry town or if it had been an earlier settlement. We spent four days digging and uncovered an incredible number of artifacts including some pieces that point to an earlier settlement, but Fred is planning to spend some time this winter analyzing the artifacts we found and continuing his research before making a determination. Our field week culminated in a second visit to Hurricane in partnership Vinalhaven Land Trust. Sixty-five people came by boat to learn more about the history of the island and our archaeological work specifically. This winter, we are planning to make a long-term strategy for preserving and documenting the island’s history.

The Northeastern Coastal Stations Alliance (NeCSA)

We are continuing efforts to coordinate environmental monitoring with other field stations in the Gulf of Maine.  In March 2016, we had our final in-person meeting, which involved field station directors, researchers and others invested in understanding change in the Gulf of Maine. Laura Sewall, from Bates College, and I completed a strategic plan, outlining network actions to move our work forward over the next ten years. Hannah Webber, from Schoodic Institute, and Hurricane Island received a small grant from Maine Sea Grant to implement a pilot project where multiple stations would deploy and retrieve the same data logger and compare the data across our locations. In June, nine stations deployed a HOBO TidBit v2 Data Logger in the intertidal zone to monitor nearshore water temperature. Bailey, our research assistant, deployed the Hurricane logger in the intertidal zone on the south end of the island at Two Bush near the location of Bowdoin’s long-term intertidal transects. In August, we collected the logger, downloaded the data and then redeployed the logger for the winter. It’s a small step in learning how our stations can work together to monitor nearshore change in the Gulf of Maine. Going forward, we plan to develop an intertidal protocol to document the biological community at each of our stations so we can couple the biological data with the abiotic logger data. 

The Kelp Ecosystems Ecology Network

Phoebe and Jessie ready to get in the water at Muscle Ridge

We have joined a global network that monitors kelp beds around the world. Kelp beds provide important habitat for a number of species and are susceptible to climate change. A standardized monitoring protocol is used at all sites where this work takes place and the Northeast chapter of the Kelp Ecosystems Ecology Network (KEEN) is housed at Northeastern University. We joined a dive team from Northeastern at the Pemaquid Lighthouse for training on the protocols used to collect data for KEEN. Bailey and Jessie joined Marissa McMahan, a Northeastern PhD student to finish the transects at Pemaquid. We then implemented the same protocol on the north and western side of Hurricane. As part of this work, we deployed two HOBO TidBit v2 loggers to track water temperature throughout the year. Hurricane represents the northernmost site included in the Kelp Ecosystems Ecology Network in the Northeastern U.S.

It was definitely a busy season and now we are transitioning to the winter months, which will include synthesizing data and making plans for next year.  Stay tuned for updates throughout the coming months as we analyze and summarize findings.

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Digging into the Past

Guest blog post by Research Assistant Bailey Moritz

I was recently given a grim yet beautiful book of Hurricane Island poetry written back in the early 1900’s by Harold Vinal. In it he writes, “The granite cannot speak; it has no voice; and all is silence save for the great sea. Ah, my fastidious sire, if it could!” Yes, if only it could. The granite may not be able to speak, but the artifacts embedded around it certainly can if one pays close enough attention. That was the 5-day task set before the research team during our 2016 Archaeology week; allowing historic remains to speak their stories using archaeology as our coercer. Along with Madelaine, an archaeology student from Washington University, we were guided by Fred Koerber, an archaeologist by passion who has put an impressive amount of work into researching the details of Hurricane Island history and who led our first archaeology program last summer.

Jessie and Fred on the brink of discovery!

Arriving at an overgrown granite foundation and water well on the North End of the island I had previously paid little attention to, we learned that this site only appears in the records a handful of times and is thought to have pre-dated the quarry era. Several flowering trees sit adjacent to a field and just around the corner sit the only 2 headstones found on the island. Questions arose immediately and we brainstormed as a team to determine where we thought best to dig in order to answer them. Was there agricultural activity? Who lived here and when? What can be learned about their lifestyle? The archaeological process began.

Hardness test for buttons to determine what time period they were made in

Digging both in and outside the stone foundation, a plethora of artifacts made themselves known almost immediately below the surface. Bags worth of glass, metal, coal, and animal bones were washed and inventoried from 20 cm sections of dirt. Given the islands history of use with Outward Bound, it is likely that some of the material was deposited during their time on Hurricane, which made the interpretation more difficult than usual. However, some of the artifacts were unmistakably 19th century; buttons, earthenware pottery shards, redware pottery that had shell pieces molded into its fabric, and bricks from the old building. Possibly more interesting were the artifacts we didn’t come across with our trowels. There were no pieces of the ubiquitous smoking pipe found at dig sites elsewhere on the island. Also, nothing gave any indication that women were present here, perhaps indicating it was not a place of domestic activity.

Pieced together shards of an uncovered glass bottle

Pouring over the unearthed artifacts, we pulled together our best interpretations as well as a whole slew of questions. The week culminated with 60 visitors from the Vinalhaven Land Trust island hopping, as they did back in the days of the granite town for theater performances and the like, to see the work we had done. Visitors received a historic tour of the south end and then hiked over to our dig site to see for themselves what was found and what new information our work can tell us about the purpose of this old foundation. It’s exciting to leave the site with more questions than answers and we hope to continue excavating archaeological units this fall. Huge thanks go to Fred for sharing his knowledge, time, and storytelling skills with us. Seeing firsthand some of the secrets left beneath the soil of this island, I have a whole new appreciation for the people who walked these granite shores before us.

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Hanging Scallops by a Thread

Guest blog post by Research Assistant Bailey Moritz

Giving scallops the "ear" piercing

Our little guys are growing up! With many of the baby scallops from our spat bags now over 2 cm in size, it’s time for them to begin the next phase of scallop aquaculture. We visited the Darling Marine Center to learn from Maine Sea Grant’s Dana Morse about what that can look like. And what better way to do so than immerse yourself in the process and get muddy!

Completed scallop line ready for deployment

Ear-hanging is one method that can be used to grow scallops once they are about 2 inches across. A hole is drilled in the “ear” or wing of the shell, and gets threaded onto a rope that will be suspended in the water column. The technique comes from Japanese scallop farms, where operations are large scale and far more mechanized, as in this video. While it is a labor intensive process, researchers have been finding improved growth rates using the ear hanging method because water flow and space are unrestricted. Out on Hurricane, we will be using bottom cages for this coming year of growth, but may consider ear-hanging in the future.

Biofouling after several months in the water

Joined by others interested in pursuing scallop aquaculture, we boated around the corner to where Danas’ scallops have been growing in bottom cages, the same kind used for oysters. Upon hauling the cages up, it’s immediately clear how much fouling can occur. The bags were covered in tunicates, but they are easy to scrape off if you don’t mind the squishiness. We took out the larger scallops and brought them into the lab to be processed. The goal of the afternoon was to set up 4 lines of 60 scallops to deploy, each testing a different location of the drill hole. One ear is slightly larger than the other providing more stability for the hole while the other has a spot where drilling does not damage the shellfish’s mantle tissue. Dana will go back in 6 months to see if one method held up better than the others, and remeasure each individual to determine any growth rate differences. Ear-hanging is an exciting possibility for Maine waters. Dana is definitely leading the charge and it was awesome to see how doable it would be for Hurricane Island to carry out the technique ourselves next year!


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Dive Team Updates

Guest blog post by Research Intern Jessie Batchelder

On Saturday August 13th we finished our last scallop dive day on Muscle Ridge! (If you would like to learn more about what happens on our scallop dives you can read my previous blog post, First Scallop Dive Day!) Finishing our dives is a little bittersweet because dive days have been a blast this year, although I definitely feel a sense of accomplishment for all the work we have done this summer.  All in all, we lucked out with great dive conditions and are extremely excited to have finished our Muscle Ridge dive days before late October when temperatures are much cooler. First, I would like to send a huge thank you to the wonderful fishermen Tad, Dan, and Jim who so graciously have taken us out on their boats and work as amazing dive tenders while we are underwater.

Do you think we have enough gear?

Even though we have not yet gone through our data to start the analysis from this season, we have noticed that there are more juvenile scallops this year than in past years.  When comparing our survey results to the drop camera results from previous years, we have found that our dive surveys have been less successful at capturing the juvenile population.  This could be due to the difficulty of spotting small scallops in poor visibility conditions, or because in past years that size class has not been present at our sites.  Finding juvenile scallops at a number of our sites this season has been a positive sign because it suggests that we were not simply missing them because of visibility.

Scallops - we find all sizes while diving!

Thinking back to the first day we dove for the scallop project in early July, I can’t believe that time has gone by so fast.  This was my first experience with research diving and it is hard to believe that at one point I was unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the methodology and protocols. Now, completing the scallop transects feel like any other dive.  I have found that the biggest difference with research diving is that you go underwater with a purpose, not simply to “see what you can see”.  However, this does not mean that our scallop dives have not been fun or that we did not see interesting organisms.  I could start a long list, but some of my favorite things I saw were two crabs mating, and some stocked jellyfish.  Scallop dive days were a huge focus for this summer—realizing that we finished our last transect is the first of many signals that unfortunately, summer is starting to wrap-up very quickly.

Bailey and I with Hector

In addition to diving for the scallop project, Bailey and I also had the unique opportunity to dive with the Rozalia Project’s ROV.  The Rozalia Project is a wonderful group whose mission is to “clean and protect our ocean”.  They visited Hurricane Island in late July to help teach two of our programs about their mission. Between cleaning up marine debris and teaching our highschoolers’, they helped us locate a lost mooring in our harbor using their ROV, Hector the Collector.  From the deck of the boat Hector was maneuvered onto the seafloor, with the help of his sonar sensors and a small screen aboard the boat, we were able to find the mooring block without too much trouble.  The real fun began when Bailey and I dove down to Hector in order to attach the mooring line back onto the block.  I had never dove with an ROV before—it was fun to have something else with us while we were underwater.  Hector even stayed with us on our safety stop to keep us company and take some fun photos! Diving with Hector was a new experience for me and it was also satisfying to put our dive skills to use in order to help find the lost mooring.

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