Science for Everyone


Hurricane-made Passive Drifter Deployed!

Constructing the drifter in the HIF workshop

Transporting the completed drifter to American Promise

The passive drifter that students from our Marine Biology program made this summer has officially been deployed and is on its way collecting data on currents in the Gulf of Maine! If you want to track its progress click here. Our drifter started its ocean journey with our friends The Rozalia Project aboard their sailing vessel American Promise. They were generous enough to take the drifter out of Hurricane Sound to deploy it in an open water area. The drifter was deployed August 23rd at 43 20.649N, 70 08.923W in 368' of water.

All of this would not have been possible without help from Jim Manning from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). His advice and expertise about all parts of the drifter-building process were incredibly helpful, and if you are interested in building your own passive drifter to contribute to research on currents, and current modeling you can find all of the information you need here.

Hickory the dog looks out at the drifter-- now its path will depend on wind, tide, and currents!

Subscribe in a reader

Mushroom Buoys and Beyond

Post by Jacque Rosa, Science Education Intern

Just yesterday, Island Ecology students were given a line of 16 buoys to deploy off the coast of Hurricane Island that are going to be monitored over the next few months. However, these weren’t your typical lobster buoys. These buoys were made of mushrooms…does it get any cooler than that?

This story begins with two engineering students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who invented “Mushroom Material” as part of a senior project. This product, now manufactured by their company Ecovative, consists of 100% plant based farm waste and fungal mycelium (root structure of a mushroom). After testing, Mushroom Materials proved to be strong, insulative, flame-resistant, and buoyant. With the help of Sue Van Hook, now chief mycologist of Ecovative, their business has taken off, and aims to reduce the use of petroleum based plastic foams.

Sue explains how the idea behind Mushroom Materials came about

Sue Van Hook, whose grandfather was a lobsterman in nearby North Haven, grew up painting wooden buoys and witnessed the transition to foam buoys. Van Hook saw the potential of Mushroom Materials to replace foam buoys and reduce the overall amount of debris entering the marine environment. Currently, 80% of plastics in the ocean can be traced back to landfills, and 25% of that is Styrofoam. Van Hook is utilizing stations in Maine (like Hurricane Island) to test her products in the field. Van Hook visited Hurricane Island yesterday while acting as guest scientist aboard the American Promise, the home base for the Rozalia Project, which focuses on ocean health through education, marine debris cleanups, and research. Her presentation on Hurricane blew us away. As a community that finds hundreds of buoys washed up on our shores, we were incredibly excited at the prospect of a natural solution.

Taking a closer look at our trial buoys. The brown buoys have the resin coating.

So how are Mushroom Materials made? Its simple: mushrooms are collected from the woods, cloned in a lab, and then grown on plant waste where their mycelium penetrate the material and create a strong mass by gluing the material together as they digest it. Unlike plastic and Styrofoam, Ecovative’s product requires a fraction of the energy to manufacture, contains no toxic chemicals, and is completely biodegradable. You can even crumble it up in your garden as compost! Mushroom Materials can also be grown into variety of shapes and sizes in only a few days.

Mushroom buoy field trials are currently taking place in Boothbay and here off Hurricane Island. The trial buoys we received were either coated with a silica-based paint or a 40% biowaste resin, which is resistant to marine decay. Hurricane Island staff and students will monitor the buoys weekly, by weighing them and checking for any damage, mold, or algae growth. This project presents an opportunity for students to participate in research project that supports a shift away from plastics. Ecovative is certainly headed in the right direction, and we more than happy to be a part of the movement to a healthier, happier ocean.

Subscribe in a reader

Scallop Nerds Unite!

From April 23rd through April 28th, 2015, I attended and presented at the 20th International Pectinid Workshop in Galway, Ireland. Scientists from all over the world participated and session topics included ecology and general biology, aquaculture, fisheries, marine protected areas, biotoxins, resource management, and two sessions were dedicated to physiology, biochemistry, and genetics. A special session focused on Pectinids as witnesses of their environment in a changing ocean. This session featured work by French scientists to develop analysis tools which will use the shells of scallops to determine environmental characteristics at the time when the shell is formed. They have yet to determine the method for Placopecten magellanicus, the species found in Maine, but when they do, we hope to send them samples from the Muscle Ridge and Ocean Point closed areas.

Maine representatives L-R Skylar Bayer, Caitlin Cleaver, Trish Cheney, Carla Guenther, and Dana Morse

Maine representatives L-R Skylar Bayer, Caitlin Cleaver, Trish Cheney, Carla Guenther, and Dana Morse

Maine was well represented at the conference, with four of us presenting our current research including Skylar Bayer, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maine School of Marine Sciences, who presented on her dissertation work studying fertilization success in the Atlantic Sea Scallop (Placopecten magellanicus). Trisha Cheney, Resource coordinator for scallops, urchins, groundfish permit bank at Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) presented on state scallop management efforts, and Dr. Carla Guenther, Senior Scientist at Penobscot East Resource Center (PERC) and a member of the Scallop Advisory Council, followed up Trish's presentation by sharing the work that PERC and DMR have done to build trust within the scallop fishing community and to implement the rotational closed area management system currently in place in Zone 2. I provided preliminary results from quantifying the effect of the Muscle Ridge Closed Area on scallop populations. 

Dr. Kevin Stokesbury, Dr. Dave Bethoney, and Dr. Susan Inglis from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth (You can find info about their work here) and Dr. Dvora Hart who works in the Population Dynamics Branch at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, MA, presented on their work on the federal scallop fishery which ranged from a parasite in scallops that causes the white meat of the adductor to turn gray to larval dispersal.  

Conversations with workshop participants have inspired me to consider additional methods for the Collaborative Scallop Project that would improve the power of the study. In the near term, I am hoping to organize a visit to the Northeast Fisheries Science Center to learn their shell aging and growth rate methods so we can apply it to the shells we've collected over the past two years. 

A full group photo from the conference (I am hiding in the back row at the left edge of the blue background)

Subscribe in a reader

Rockweed Working Group update

I attended the Rockweed Working Group's meeting on Wednesday, April 1, 2015 in Bangor, ME. The Rockweed Working Group is made up of 5 scientists who are volunteering their time help determine how this brown algae should be managed within the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) fisheries management plans before rockweed harvesting takes off as a larger commercial industry. The group has been charged with providing recommendations to DMR about areas that should be designated as closures and prohibit rockweed harvesting. Portions of the coast or islands can only be designated as closures if doing so protects "sensitive" wildlife areas, as determined and justified by scientific evidence. The group has already reviewed the justification for restricting harvesting in specific areas along the coast of Maine during certain times of year to protect declining populations of shore birds. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife tracks changes in bird populations along the coast, and provided data to help the working group determine timing and location of these closures.

Smooth periwinkle snails often hang out on clumps of rockweed where they can be easily mistaken for the air bladders that help the brown algae float in the ocean for maximum photosynthesis.

Smooth periwinkle snails often hang out on clumps of rockweed where they can be easily mistaken for the air bladders that help the brown algae float in the ocean for maximum photosynthesis.

At Wednesday's meeting, the discussion focused on whether Harbor and Gray seals should be classified as sensitive species, and if yes, whether their habitat should be considered for closure. Populations of seals seem to be doing well and so it was challenging to determine whether or not pupping ledges should be closed to rockweed harvesting during pupping season. The Marine Mammal Protection Act  does prohibit individuals from changing the behavior of a marine mammal and so, in a sense, the Federal MMPA would already prohibit rockweed harvesting in any areas that are close enough to disrupts seals. Dr. Brian Beal also presented a literature review of the impact of rockweed harvesting on invertebrates. He concluded that the current evidence from research does not show a major impact of harvesting on intertidal invertebrates; however, more studies need to be done. 

A segment of the meeting was dedicated to figuring out how the Working Group will address intertidal habitat that is owned by or adjacent to conserved lands. A resolution on this issue was not reached. I used this agenda item as an opportunity to follow up on a letter I had submitted last week on behalf of Hurricane Island (see the letter here) and asked that the Working Group consider the intertidal habitat owned or used by field stations and marine labs for educational and scientific purposes to be closed to commercial harvest. The members of the group were extremely receptive to this idea and so I am working to gather the latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates for the areas that should be closed. Once this information has been gathered, I will submit it to DMR for consideration along with the Working Group's recommendations. 

Subscribe in a reader

Maine Science Festival: Climate Change Panel

On Saturday, March 21st, 2015, I participated on a panel about climate change in Maine at the first Maine Science Festival, which was a fantastic event that drew 10,000 people of all ages to interact with science through presentations, workshops, and other events. The panel was moderated by Linda Silka, the former Director of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and a Professor in the School of Economics. Our panel group opened with an overview of climate change in Maine by Dr. Ivan Fernandez. He is a professor at the University of Maine in the forestry department and the Climate Change Institute and he played a significant role in writing the 2009 Maine's Climate Future report and the 2015 update, the culmination of a voluntary effort undertaken by a number of researchers in Maine at the request of Governor Baldacci. 

 Dr. Mathew Chatfield, an assistant professor of conservation biology at Unity College, followed Dr. Fernandez's talk. Dr. Chatfield studies amphibians and reptiles and he focused his presentation on talking about the challenges certain species with narrow ecological niches face as temperatures increase and precipitation patterns change; those species face real barriers to survival.  

One of my presentation slides

One of my presentation slides

My presentation focused on evidence of warming water temperatures and ocean acidification, and the ecological and socioeconomic implications these changes have for important species in the Gulf of Maine. Scientists at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute believe the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of the world's ocean. Others in the state have attributed the lack of the Northern shrimp (Pandalus borealis) fishery, which is closed for the second season in a row, to warmer water temperatures altering the timing of the spring phytoplankton bloom and the release of shrimp eggs into the water column. The two events used to be synchronized so that larval shrimp could maximize feeding on the ready supply of phytoplankton; however, the timing of each event has shifted due to changes in water temperature. The result is that shrimp larvae are not getting the nutrition they need to survive. I also pointed to other examples of changes in the marine system, including the range expansion of black sea bass and the devastating effects green crabs have had on valuable nursery habitats and on our clam fishery, the third most valuable commercial fishery in the state. These examples are occurring partially because of warming waters and ocean acidification.

Finally, Dr. Caroline Noblet, a professor in the School of Economics at the University of Maine, concluded the discussion by speaking about the public perception of climate change and how to tailor messaging about evidence to initiate action. Once we wrapped up our presentations, the audience asked excellent questions about how to move policy and other initiatives forward to mitigate climate change effects and how communities can adapt to changing conditions. The discussion was engaging and I left the presentation feeling encouraged that people are paying attention and thinking about solutions to this critical issue. 

Subscribe in a reader