Science for Everyone

KEEN Updates - Year 2

Guest blog post by Research Assistant Jessie Batchelder

Bailey recording fish counts on waterproof paper taped to a clipboard.

Bailey recording fish counts on waterproof paper taped to a clipboard.

This year is the second year that Hurricane Island has been part of the Kelp Ecosystem Ecology Network (KEEN). KEEN is a global network of scientists who are assessing the impacts of global change on kelp forests. Kelp forests are an important ecosystem because they provide a complex habitat that supports a high diversity of marine organisms. Through KEEN, scientists across the world are using a standardized SCUBA sampling protocol to observe kelp forests over time and understand how resistant they are with rapidly changing oceanic conditions.

Bailey and I swimming along the transect while completing the swath protocol – a survey dedicated to looking at abundance of large invertebrates and demersal cryptic fish

Bailey and I swimming along the transect while completing the swath protocol – a survey dedicated to looking at abundance of large invertebrates and demersal cryptic fish

As a member of KEEN, we conduct five different protocols along four transects at each site we survey. Each protocol focuses on a different part of the ecosystem to determine abundance and percent cover of common invertebrates, algae and fish, as well as the size distribution and biomass of kelp. Last year, we surveyed one site on the north end of Hurricane Island. This year, our involvement in KEEN grew, as we added a second site on Schoodic Peninsula. Schoodic Peninsula is located further down east in Maine, and we conducted our surveys in the part of the peninsula that is Acadia National Park. In addition to the two sites we managed, we helped Northeastern University complete surveys at their site on Pemaquid Point. 

I’m placing a quadrat along our transect for the quadrat protocol in which we count the number of kelp fronds and invertebrates in a 1m2 quadrat

I’m placing a quadrat along our transect for the quadrat protocol in which we count the number of kelp fronds and invertebrates in a 1m2 quadrat

One exciting part about surveying multiple sites for KEEN is being able to see the changes in species distribution and ecosystem characteristics over a small distance. At Schoodic, we saw much more coralline algae compared to what is present both at Hurricane and Pemaquid. Another species of interest was Dasysiphonia japonica, an invasive filamentous red algae that originates from Japan. Dasysiphonia japonica has recently been seen in large quantities along much of the Maine coast and has been taking over areas previously dominated by kelp ecosystems. During our surveys at both Pemaquid Point and on Hurricane Island, Dasysiphonia japonica was one of the most commonly spotted species, but at Schoodic, we did not see any Dasysiphonia japonica, a sign possibly indicating that the algae has not yet invaded further down east the Maine coast.

Our transect running through a bed of Saccharina “sugar kelp”, the most common type of kelp we find around Hurricane Island

Our transect running through a bed of Saccharina “sugar kelp”, the most common type of kelp we find around Hurricane Island

Personally, my favorite site to dive was at Schoodic Peninsula because I had never been to Schoodic before and it has long been on my list of places to visit in Maine. Although where we were diving in Schoodic is also part of Acadia National Park, it could not have felt more different than the part of Acadia located on Mount Desert Island. Schoodic is more remote with much less visitor traffic. The diving was also unique, dominated by a substrate of pink granite boulders and ledges covered in coralline algae

Although the protocols are the same at each site, each site felt new and exciting because we worked with different divers and saw a variety of unique species. Between all three sites, the Hurricane Island dive team completed 12 transects for KEEN monitoring in 10 different dives along the coast of Maine!

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Alca I. research expedition comes to Hurricane

Alca I. moored at Hurricane Island in late July. Photo courtesy of David Conover

Alca I. moored at Hurricane Island in late July. Photo courtesy of David Conover

Just over a month ago, Hurricane was fortunate enough to host the Alca I. and its amazing crew of scientists as they made their way across the Gulf of Maine conducting research on dramatic changes occurring in our oceans. The Alca I. is a three-masted motor schooner that was specifically built for oceanographic expeditions by Dr. Walter Adey, a research scientist with the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.  After construction was finished 2003, the Alca I. has been traveling across the North Atlantic on a variety of expeditions focused on distribution of a variety of seaweeds. The current expedition is being run in conjunction with Drs. Thew Suskiewicz and Doug Rasher, who are continuing the research that Dr. Adey started over 50 years ago.

The vessel had a rotating crew and we were excited to have Dr. Suskiewicz come ashore to give a presentation to our students while the vessel was moored at Hurricane.  The Advanced Marine Biology students learned about the changing nature of the Gulf of Maine, particularly related to the changing seaweed communities due to successive overharvesting of a variety of marine species (e.g., large finfish, urchins).  It was amazing to hear how few large urchins they were able to find on their current expedition in the lower subtidal zones compared to the last expedition that saw almost nothing but urchin barrens (example video from Southern California).

You can learn more about about their work and help support the current expedition by visiting their gofundme site.

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Sea Farm Diaries

Guest blog post by Research Technician Bailey Moritz

Make way for the next cohort of little bivalves!

Make way for the next cohort of little bivalves!

What went in last fall as the size of my fingertip now fills the palm of my hand. With an average growth rate of 0.07mm per day, our baby scallops spent the past year slowly filling up the bottom cages they were placed in. The added size means, just like for my brother and I growing up, that more personal space is needed. We have been keeping our density around 30% and the scallops are now spread throughout 4 bottom cages and 2 lantern nets. We even had a student from Georgetown join our research team for the day and help us with the time-consuming task of taking monthly growth measurements and transferring them to new, more spacious cages. The help was so appreciated! Everyone should come out and take a look for themselves! They seem to be at their peak teenage phase and very active. There is nothing like the joy on someone’s face as they watch a scallop swim for the first time or hold it in their hand while it utilizes its powerful adductor muscle to clap rapidly.

Our second year class keeps on growin'!

Our second year class keeps on growin'!

Our charismatic tiny-fauna will undergo monthly cleanings of the mesh and cage structures, as algae and barnacles grow prolifically during the warmer months. We are really starting to feel like farmers! Especially taking into consideration all the new spat we’ve collected this year, our sea farm and the gear required to make it operational are growing in step with the scallops. Our goal is to ear hang them in the fall once they’ve grown a little larger! Stay tuned.

Tracking the growth rates of tagged scallops

Tracking the growth rates of tagged scallops

This weekend even marked an exciting field trip for a lucky handful of little scallops. Hurricane Island hosted a booth at the Chebeague Aquaculture Festival, giving visitors a chance to look a farmed scallop in the eyes and learn about our goals of research and education through on-island aquaculture. We were joined by an excellent array of speakers, growers, cooks, entrepreneurs, and enthusiastic members of the public! And while those coast-traversing scallops are safely back in their cages now, I think they may miss the taste of warm, growth-conducive water they were briefly given.

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Aliens in the Ice Pond: What Macroinvertebrates Can Tell Us About Our Freshwater Environments

Guest blog post by Science Educator Isabelle Holt

Students sort and identify their net contents using field guides and macro-lenses so they could gather count data for various freshwater macroinvertebrate families.

Students sort and identify their net contents using field guides and macro-lenses so they could gather count data for various freshwater macroinvertebrate families.

The word ecology comes from the Greek words oikos meaning “the family household” and logy meaning “study of.” This past week High School Island Ecology (HSIE) got to explore the world of freshwater macroinvertebrates.

Our ambitious high school students studied the households of our freshwater macroinvebrate communities by sampling in both the Ice Pond and one of the old foundation ponds and compared what they found in each.

Invertebrates are extremely important for all ecosystems and make up 96% of animal species. The freshwater macroinvertebrates, defined as spineless animals that can be seen with the naked eye, on Hurricane are responsible for the breakdown and cycling of nutrients within their ponds similarly to the ways in which earthworms allow for the cycling of nutrients in soil. The species we were studying feed on autochthonous detritus, decaying organic matter that has come from flowering plants, mosses, or algae and is typically high in its cellulous content.

Dragonfly larvae will molt between 5 and 14 times before it is ready to emerge as an adult dragonfly (Image from Shropshire Dragonflies)

Dragonfly larvae will molt between 5 and 14 times before it is ready to emerge as an adult dragonfly (Image from Shropshire Dragonflies)

Many freshwater invertebrates act as indicator species of habitat health allowing for the process of biomonitoring. Dragonfly nymphs, for example are very sensitive to pollutants and their presence in a freshwater system indicates that that body of water is relatively clean and free of contaminates. Don’t let the adult dragonfly’s beauty bewitch you; they are fearsome predators who, in their larval form, look like the aliens of horror movie fame. Dragonfly larvae have extendable jaws called labium that they thrust out towards their prey. Equipped with sharp bristles and pincers, once a prey item is in the grasp of a dragonfly nymph it has little hope. These nymphs have even been known to hunt and capture freshwater fish 10x larger than they are. Upon careful study students noted that the most prevalent family of dragonfly in the Ice Pond were the Libellulidae or Skimmer dragonflies. One student even remarked that the nymphs he was finding appeared to be the inspiration behind Predator, the 1987 science fiction action horror film. Who says science can’t be cool?!  

Fingernail clams are so small they are easy to misidentify as pieces of sediment, however, our observant HSIE students were able to sort through quite a few. (Image from the Natural Environment Research Council)

Fingernail clams are so small they are easy to misidentify as pieces of sediment, however, our observant HSIE students were able to sort through quite a few. (Image from the Natural Environment Research Council)

Closely related to their marine bivalve cousins, the scallops, the freshwater environments on Hurricane are rife with Sphaeriidae otherwise known as fingernail or pea clams. The HSIE students pulled dozens of these tiny bivalves up in their nets from the soft substrate of the ice pond. When sorting through the muck in our nets the fingernail clams looked like little pearls that had burrowed into the surrounding leaf litter. Fingernail clams have a lifespan of 1-3 years but can reach maturity as rapidly as at one month old. One of the reason fingernail clams are so prevalent in freshwater environments is that they can burrow up to 25 cm into soft sediment and therefore are able to avoid desiccation (drying out) for several months at a time.

Anybody home? A student holds a caddisfly larva case who's shy inhabitant hides inside its self constructed home.

Anybody home? A student holds a caddisfly larva case who's shy inhabitant hides inside its self constructed home.

The Humpless Case Maker Caddisflies (Brachycentridae) construct four sided tapering cases made of thinly stacked spruce needles gathered from the environment around them and cemented together with their own spit. These freshwater engineers use whatever is in the environment around them to construct a protective shell and feed by clinging to decaying logs in their environment and filtering small particles of organic matter from the surrounding water. Intriguingly we found more caddisfly larvae in the foundation pond than we did in the Ice Pond. Determining what factors lead to this difference in distribution could be a potentially fruitful area for inquiry by future program participants!  

HSIE returned to the Ice Pond later in the week for the raft challenge and as students constructed and tested their rafts they discussed the creatures they now knew lived beneath its murky waters. Their splashes and kicks in the pond, as they moved their rafts across, allowed these young ecologists to become part of the Ice Pond ecosystem by aerating the water, which in turn increased its dissolved oxygen content allowing the pond to hopefully support a greater diversity and abundance of macroinvertebrates. 

 

 

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Aquaculture from Maine to Madagascar

Guest blog post by Research Technician Bailey Moritz

Baby sea cucumbers ready to grow!

Baby sea cucumbers ready to grow!

Building new sea cucumber pens in the tidal flats

Building new sea cucumber pens in the tidal flats

This spring, before returning to Hurricane, I spent 3 months on a much larger island- Madagascar, that is- as an Aquaculture Intern with Reef Doctor, an organization working on many fronts to address extreme poverty and rapidly dwindling fisheries in villages along the southwestern coast of the African country. The Vezo, whose name means “people of the sea”, rely almost entirely on fishing everything from octopus to parrotfish to sea turtles to make a living and provide food for their household. But as population increases, extra pressure on an already overfished reef system risks leaving people without a source of income. Boats already come in empty, and many have resorted to dragging mosquito nets along the beach, which catch even the smallest juvenile fish. While damage to the ecosystem and marine populations are grim, you cannot simply tell people to stop fishing. Instead, Reef Doctor has set up community run seaweed and sea cucumber aquaculture farms in villages all around the Bay to provide an alternative livelihood that is sustainable both for the ocean and the people depending on it. 

Cleaning a seaweed line free of sediment

Cleaning a seaweed line free of sediment

Villagers drying their harvest on mesh tables (Image courtesy of ReefDoctor)

Villagers drying their harvest on mesh tables (Image courtesy of ReefDoctor)

A globally prevalent seaweed for carrageenan extraction, Kappaphycus alvarezii, is grown on longlines that create habitat for small fish and squid. We rowed out to the farms and assisted with almost daily cleaning of sediment build up that would inhibit growth and checked for damaging invasive epiphytic algae. Ranging from bright green to brown while growing, it dries into a beautiful purple color and is bagged and sold by the kilo to a local processor. The sea cucumbers, called “sand fish”, are farmed in near shore plastic mesh pens. It takes about a year to raise them to market size at which time they are salted and shipped to Asian buyers. Families participating in the sea cucumber program have seen an average increase of 2.53 USD/day of income. I got to help build and stock pens for 20 new farmers since the program has shown so much success. The great thing about sea cucumbers is, just like shellfish, they broadcast spawn, meaning they release their eggs into the ocean and can actually contribute to wild population numbers. I was very impressed with how well both forms of aquaculture were integrated into the local villages and the benefits already accrued after just 3 years of operating!

Wooden canoes called "pirogues" traditionally used for everyday fishing

Wooden canoes called "pirogues" traditionally used for everyday fishing

For me, the parallels to aquaculture in Maine and the role it serves were evident. While sturdy mooring buoys replace the recycled plastic water bottles of Mada, seaweed farming has been bringing a viable source of alternative income to Maine’s fishermen who already have much of the gear and on-the-water knowledge needed to be successful. While waters warm in the Gulf of Maine and threaten lobster catches, coastal communities here need something they can turn to or fall back on in case the wild-caught fishery they work in crashes. Right now, both Maine and Madagascar farms are being driven by community members who are excited about the potential it holds and recognize the need for a livelihood that helps to improve the ecosystem rather than only extract from it. And in both communities, there is an important role for researchers to play in carrying out experiments with the goal of optimizing growth under local conditions and training farmers on the best methods to utilize for success. While never a silver bullet, my time in Madagascar taught me that aquaculture can and actively is addressing environmental and social problems in communities all across the globe.

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