Diadromous fish videos: Elvers, alewives, Somesville and downeast Maine

Marine studies at COA is a platform for students, faculty, and alums from COA to post stories, pictures, videos, ideas, and their work around ocean biology, policy, aesthetics, and people. It is edited by Chris Petersen and COA students, currently the co-editor is Aliza Leit ’21. 

More and more, short videos are becoming an important way to get information out on ecology and natural history of species and phenomenon that might be happening right under our noses, or under our cars as we drive through Somesville.  These videos represent three examples with varying levels of geographic scale and professional production. The  first two use the same location, Somesville and Somes Stream, but focus on two different fish migrations. The third looks more broadly at river conservation in downeast Maine.

The first video is by College of the Atlantic undergraduate, Annaleena Vaher ’21. Leena created this short film as a final project for her Fisheries, Fishermen, and Fishing Communities class at College of the Atlantic in the spring of 2019. In particular, the focus is on elvers or glass eels, and just the sheer number of this species moving upstream is nothing short of remarkable.  The shots of elvers trying to come up over the dam and in the concrete pool leading to the mill pond at Somesville are simply stunning.


The second video was produced by a professional film-making crew brought in to work with the park. The title of the video is Greater Connection: Alewife Recovery on MDI, and the film’s producers have allowed us to link the video here.

Several individuals, including College of the Atlantic Professor, Chris Petersen, Acadia National Park personnel Bruce Connery and Rebecca Cole-Will, and Somes-Meynell Sancturay director Billy Helprin were interviewed.  Billy spoke about the research on alewife restoration at the Somes-Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary. This film has some wonderful footage of alewives moving up the stream, and some great narrative that outlines both the history of the area and the restoration efforts going on in the stream.

The third video was created for Maine Coast Heritage Trust called Restoring Rivers in Downeast Maine.  It has some remarkable landscapes that capture the beauty of rivers in Hancock and Washington County.  Maine Coast Heritage Trust and COA are both members of the Downeast Fisheries Partnership, a group of organizations whose goal is to strengthen downeast Maine communities by restoring a strong and resilient ecosystem and our regional fisheries economy.

Posted by Aliza Leit ’21 and Chris Petersen

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Who Owns Rockweed?

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of videos that have been produced by COA students, alums, and our partners on coastal and ocean issues focused on downeast Maine.  In addition to Ellie Oldach’s video , we give links to several other sources, and past COA student posts on the rockweed issue. – Chris Petersen and Aliza Leit ’21

Who owns intertidal marine resources in Maine? And how will this impact harvest, conservation, and research? In this short film, UC Davis graduate student and COA alum, Ellie Oldach, discusses the recent privatization of rockweed with researchers Chris Petersen of College of the Atlantic and Hannah Webber of the Schoodic Institute.


We wanted to provide more context to understand the conversations in the film. Several things had been done in Frenchman Bay before this video was created:

Chris and Hannah have been conducting research on rockweed in Frenchman Bay since 2016, following a Frenchman Bay Partners stakeholder meeting in Sullivan Maine. At that meeting, it became clear to stakeholders that even the most basic questions about rockweed in Frenchman Bay, such as how fast it grows here and what the current biomass is, were unknown.

In response to this uncertainty, Frenchman Bay Partners decided to make rockweed a conservation target, and began to develop a conservation action plan for the species.  This plan focused on what was needed to understand the ecology of rockweed in Frenchman Bay. The plan did not take an anti- or pro-harvest stance, but instead asked how to determine what “sustainable harvest” might mean for the bay and how such an idea could be realized.

Following up on this meeting, Hannah and Chris launched a research project on Frenchman Bay rockweed. This research included measuring growth rate and size of plants around the bay, along with an estimate of biomass for each of 15 sites. In addition, at several sites, they simulated harvest by cutting rockweed to its legal limit of 16 inches.  That research is ongoing, with probes at several sites collecting temperature and light data on both control areas and areas with simulated harvest.  Those data should be collected through 2020, and reported out in 2021.  Chris and Hannah also offered a ‘Rockweed Rodeo‘ in Sullivan in May, 2017, to explain to local residents the research they were conducting in the bay.

Finally, here is a perspective from Camden Hunt, a student in the 2019 COA course Fisheries, Fishermen, and Fishing Communities on the initial court ruling and before the Maine Supreme Court and decided the appeal of the case.

Hannah Webber is currently doing her Ph.D. research as part of the project CRASSH
Conserving Rockweed Animal Systems for a Sustainable Harvest.
This work is being led by University of Maine professors Amanda Klemmer and Brian Olsen and Maine Maritime Academy professor Jessica Muhlin

Other resources on rockweed:

A Fish Called Rockweed by Ben Goldfarb.

University of Maine Cooperative Extension Rockweed Fact Sheet

The Rockweed Coalition/ Save our Seaweed

Post created by Aliza Leit ’21, Ellie Oldach ’15 and Chris Petersen

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Growing-Out: Expanding Perspectives of Aquaculture in Downeast Maine

This is the second post from COA’s Fisheries, Fishermen, and Fishing Communities class from Spring 2019.

By Indigo Woods and Aliza Leit

Throughout this spring term, we have looked at the aquaculture industry in Maine as part of our Fisheries, Fishermen, and Fishing Communities class taught by Chris Petersen and Natalie Springuel. We are going to share stories from our experiences visiting four different farms and talking with aquaculturists. We found that aquaculture ranges from small to large-scale operations along the coast of Maine, there are a variety of different practices and species grown, and that each individual we talked to has unique motivations for having an aquaculture business. In conjunction with one another, all of these things create an array of perspectives on the industry, even when just focusing on the aquaculture company owners’ side of the story.

Above: Pictures from 3 of the 4 aquaculture sites we discuss here, Top: Bar Harbor Oyster Co. in Frenchman Bay. Bar Harbor Oyster Company Oyster pens float on top of the water and are flipped occasionally. ([Source: https://www.barharboroyster.com/gallery-1]; :Lower left: A line from Springtide Seaweed with kelp growing on it in upper Frenchman Bay; Lower right: A salmon pen from Cooke Aquaculture in Eastport.

On May 3rd, a cloudy Friday afternoon, our class stepped on to RV Osprey at the COA dock to take a twenty-minute boat ride to Bar Harbor Oyster Company. This would be our first look at aquaculture as a rapidly changing industry in Maine. After climbing aboard RV Osprey, Joanna Fogg, co-owner of Bar Harbor Oyster Company, dumped a cage of their “Bar Harbor Blonde” American oysters on the deck of our boat––commenting on their small, yet meaty character––we quickly became aware of the constraints to having a small shellfish aquaculture business. Businesses like these have to balance their effort between both farming and marketing strategies. We learned about the entire process from getting seed from Muscongus Bay Aquaculture to selling their oysters to restaurants on Mount Desert Island with a local food focus. Joanna explained how, because these oysters filter feed in the water column, the company does not need to invest in oyster feed or fear excess nutrient inputs. She also commented on the capital and time constraints to reach their goal of producing half a million oysters sometime in the near future, hoping that volume would allow them to accept the numerous orders they are getting in the growing market. Joanna spends a lot of time communicating with other farms and educating people about the positive attributes of shellfish aquaculture, hoping that “a rising tide will raise all ships.” She also likes the freedom of being her own boss and maintaining a connection to the waterfront, as she is a Mount Desert Island (MDI) native who spent years crewing and cooking on yachts after graduating from COA. It was this strong connection to the MDI working waterfront that brought Joanna and her husband, Jesse, to settle down and create their livelihoods in Frenchman Bay. Joanna is a hardworking aquaculturist, mother, business woman, and community member; she represents only one of three diverse oyster aquaculture farms in Frenchman Bay.

Above: Joanna Fogg discusses sea stars, a challenging predation on her oysters. They can slip into the cages as juveniles and then feast on the oysters as they grow, significantly decreasing the yield (left).

Our next stop on this boat trip was Springtide Seaweed, a 35-acre farm in Sorrento run by Sarah Redmond. As the RV Osprey approached Sarah’s vessel, the wind swiftly picked up and the waves began to rock both vessels. After tactful maneuvering to bring the boats’ hulls alongside each other, Sarah climbed aboard the RV Osprey to introduce herself inside the warmth of the cabin. Sarah Redmond explained that she was previously a gardener, and then decided to grow plants in the water, seeing seaweed as “an incredible resource that you can do almost anything with.” This represents a common argument that aquaculture is a more viable way to grow food as the amount of arable land declines. Similar to Bar Harbor Oyster Company, Sarah acknowledges the difficulty with finding sufficient capital for her business. She is often out all alone in the elements–an experience she finds quite meaningful–cutting copious amounts kelp off the ropes; seaweed is a labor of love for Sarah, and her tenacity and energy proves it.

Unfortunately, due to rigorous tending to in the winter months and the possibility of biofouling in the late spring, she leaves a quarter or half of what she has grown on the lines due to the lack of time and labor needed to harvest it. Seaweed is much newer aquaculture industry in Maine compared to hundred or thousand-year-old industries in other parts of the world, and so it has a smaller customer base compared to the more established shellfish or salmon operations. Sarah shared bags full of her fresh kelp as well as her hopes for the future of the industry. She wants the industry to expand so that more people are able to appreciate the nutritious and purifying properties of kelp, as well as provide diversified livelihoods for coastal community. She expressed that her biggest concern for aquaculture in Maine is private ownership of the ocean; as soon as it gets consolidated, it won’t be so unique. Sarah hopes that kelp will contribute to communities economic and social well-being, by staying individually owned; which may act as a protection mechanism from industrial-scale operations coming in and consolidating local businesses, as in the case of salmon aquaculture (more on that soon).

Above: Sarah Redmond approaching the RV Osprey in her boat, and showing a piece of sugar kelp (right).  [Photo credit: Truth Muller]

Throughout this afternoon on the boat, the complexities of aquaculture as a developing industry became more and more apparent. It is both a way to maintain a connection to the working waterfront and the water and an attempt to grow food more sustainably, attracting people from diverse backgrounds. However, it does not exist in a vacuum; wild fisheries, cruise ships, recreational purposes are all other activities tied to the same body of water. Therefore, there are varying perspective about aquaculture.

In addition to our class aquaculture boat trip, the two of us have had the opportunity to engage with aquaculturists at their on-land processing facilities. Fiona de Koning, who we interviewed for an oral histories project for the course, touched on many of the social perceptions of aquaculture. Her background is slightly different than the other people we talked to, as she and her husband moved to Maine in 2005 from the Netherlands to expand their family-run bottom-culture mussel aquaculture business. Family tradition is the central component of their practices. At the same time, they are very conscious of how their business fits into the community and the multiple stakeholders in the aquaculture industry. While both the kelp and oyster aquaculture are grown near the surface of the water, either on ropes or in cages, bottom culture does not have any visible markers on the water, besides a few brightly colored buoys to mark where the commercial lease sits at the bottom. Acknowledging that each working waterfront stakeholder has different needs, struggles, and impacts, Fiona engages with work on committees such as the Executive Committee for Frenchman Bay Partners, Maine Shellfish and Aquaculture Advisory Councils, and the Bar Harbor Marine Resources Committee. As a small business owner, Fiona encourages strengthening the aquaculture sector in Maine by sharing knowledge with other independent aquaculturist.

Our final experience with Maine aquaculture came on May 18th, during our “Downeast Field Trip” when our class loaded onto Pier Pressure, a whale watch boat owned by Butch Harris. As we set off from the Eastport dock, the sun soaked our faces and wind swirled around us on the boat. We were also accompanied by Chris Bartlett, who has close connections to Eastport’s working waterfront, as a Marine Extension Associate for the University of Maine’s Sea Grant. Chris introduced us to Butch, and gave us background on the salmon aquaculture pens that we were fast approaching. The eighteen net pens located near Eastport are owned by Cooke Aquaculture, a New Brunswick, Canada, based international salmon aquaculture corporation, which is also the only current salmon aquaculture firm in Maine. Salmon aquaculture is technical with a precise grow-out environment. Plastic tubes are stretched across the water from a floating building that stores feed to each pen; feed is regulated based on monitored fish activity to ensure they are not overfeeding them. The net-pens and tubes make this form of aquaculture much more visible than the operations we saw in Frenchman Bay. There are strict regulations on waste inputs, net pen structural integrity, and disease control/prevention. Based on these needs, this form of aquaculture requires a great amount of capital and time to properly maintain–even more than other aquaculture businesses do. According to the Executive Director at the Sunrise County Economic Council, Charles Rudelitch, these attributes made salmon aquaculture along the coast of Maine more susceptible to monopolization. There are many voices and stories that can reflect on the transition from small family run farms to the now corporate owned farms with each one having their own unique reasons. Butch’s family once ran a salmon farm, but after that family business closed, he went on to diversify his livelihood through the fishing and tourism sectors.


Above: A row of cages at one of Cooke Aquaculture’s three lease sites off of Eastport, ME. This one has 18 pens. Nets are to keep birds and seals from getting to the fish and are changed every six months to prohibit biofouling. Viewing the pens from Butch Harris’ boat Pier Pressure. [Photo credit: Truth Muller]

Our experiences with oyster, mussel, seaweed, and salmon aquaculture systems throughout the term provided us with a diverse array of perspectives to incorporate into our own views of aquaculture. Following each visit, our classmates dove into intense discussion regarding each form of aquaculture. Our peers were inspired by new concepts of protein growth, disheartened by the need for immense capital, and intrigued by the industrialization of aquaculture. Looking toward the future of aquaculture, there will have to be spaces for people who have differing perspectives of aquaculture to engage and have conversations.

We would like to thank all of the people who took their time to talk with us about aquaculture and those who welcomed us to their farms!

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Rockweed: A Growing Industry Potentially Cut Short

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of posts from students in the class Fisheries, Fishermen, and Fishing Communities, or as the students say, Fish, Fish, Fish.  This class is co-taught be me and my colleague Natalie Springuel, a Maine Sea Grant marine extension associate based out of COA. One of the assignments was to do an outreach piece that could have a public side. In addition to blogposts, students are helping to contribute to the coastal conversations radio show on WERU and contribution to the downeast fisheries trail website – Chris Petersen

Camden Hunt 


Picture it. You’re on the coast of Maine, walking along the shore. It’s foggy. The waves crash and fill the air with briny aroma. The rocks are slick and covered in long fronds of seaweed, deep green and knotted with air bubbles. Believe it or not, that seaweed–rockweed–has recently caused some pretty heated legal debates.
On March 28, Ross v. Acadian Seaplants received a ruling: the Maine Supreme Judicial Court decided that rockweed (Ascophyllum nodosum) was not a fish, but rather a plant. This seems clear enough. However, because rockweed is not a fish, the court ruled that it belonged to the upland land owner and therefore was not public trust. Why? The Colonial Ordinance of 1641-1647.
The Colonial Ordinance, a piece of legislature created when Maine was still part of Massachusetts, states that the intertidal belongs to the crown–or, is privately owned–with exception to “fishing, fowling, and navigation.” Since we’ve established that rockweed is a plant, and is not a fish, then harvesting rockweed is not considered “fishing,” and thus can not be performed in private property. The Ross v. Acadian Seaplants document itself states that Maine has previously had problems clearly defining the intertidal as public or private, and actually also states that the ruling does not regard all intertidal land, only the rockweed that grows within it, if it is indeed privately owned.


COA students censusing a rockweed bed on Bar Island in October 2018. The author is wearing a yellow vest.

So what actually counts as “fishing” then? According to this ruling, the divide separates animals from plants. Anything that’s an animal can be freely harvested (within state regulation) within the intertidal, but anything that’s a plant cannot–this creates its own problems, as many protest this ruling because rockweed isn’t necessarily a plant, but rather an algae. In an older case, the Supreme Court used where something got its nutrition from as the divide: if it got most of its nutrients from the water in the intertidal, it was publicly owned, but if it got its nutrients from the land within the intertidal, it was privately owned. Confusing, right?
The Maine Supreme Court, however, doesn’t think so. Now, if I wanted to harvest rockweed from a specific patch of intertidal land, I would have to ask permission from the landowner. Some think that this ruling itself is unfair and unfounded. Based on the equal footing doctrine of the U.S Constitution, each state should be created equal to all others; thus, it shouldn’t have to act under the laws of a state it was once a part of. Or, in this case, Maine does not actually have to act under the Colonial Ordinance–of Massachusetts–if and only if the state legislature decides to reject it; alternatively, the equal footing doctrine could be interpreted to mean that Maine shouldn’t act under any Massachusetts law because, as a new state, they should create their own. So what does all this mean for the rockweed fishery? Nobody really knows.


Green crab (Carcinus maenus) on rockweed at night

If the ruling is set in stone, what next? Hypothetically, fisheries like marine worms or scallops are safe because the state defines fisheries broadly–regardless of species/method. So, fishing should be safe so long as the fisherman is harvesting an animal, not a plant.
Some within the industry fear a rockweed apocalypse; they think that with this ruling, the industry will collapse into itself and cease to exist, destroying many jobs and local economic stimulation. Some fear the decision will create an odd power dynamic between landowner and harvester, where landowners demand payment for harvest from what is now considered their land. Others praise the ruling, fearing unsustainable harvest of rockweed and misuse of resources. Others still think the ruling will have little, if any, impact on the industry, as fishermen and landowners have historically had good relationships.

rockweedseaSo what actually will happen? Only time will tell. Until then, all we can do is watch and see. And value that beautiful, brown seaweed that covers Maine’s shore.



Ross v Acadian Seaplants Ltd., 2019 ME 45, Was-17-142, March 28th 2019.
Delogu, O., Maine’s Beaches/Intertidal Lands are Public Property: The 1986/1989 Bell Cases Got it Wrong [lecture]
“The Thorny Issue of Rockweed.” The Ellsworth American. 4 Apr. 2019.

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Midsummer – and where are all of my students?

Its summer break at COA, we still have about six weeks before classes start, and I’ve been catching up with my advisees who are all over the place at the moment, as best I can tell in addition to the U.S. – Ireland, Norway, Italy, Spain, India (or maybe Kenya), Costa Rica, and some going off to Japan before the end of the summer. I think three are on offshore islands, and at least three are within a couple of hours drive down the coast of Maine. None of them are in town at the moment. As best as I can tell I currently have 17 advisees, and #18 is coming in the fall. Most of the time I know where most of them are, although I don’t think I’ve heard from three of them this summer but least for two I know what country they are in (okay that could be wrong, Morgan might still be in Spain). They are all adults, so I’m not responsible for them, and if I don’t know where they are its not as embarrassing as losing one of your kids in the Newark airport (don’t ask).

But they are a great group, and so I asked them all to write a quick summary of what they were up to and send a picture (if their internet was good enough, not so great when you are on a rock 25 miles offshore). I last did this over Christmas break, and I think this gives a good cross section of what COA students do doing the summer. Some of it is very dramatic and fits into a classic school bragging model of “look at all of our students are doing these awesome programs hither and yon”. And yes, some of them are doing exactly that. But others are doing other work, some of it very hard to define, but I think similarly meaningful for them, and some are recharging by spending time at home, with family and friends, or traveling, so I wanted to include all of them. It makes it long, but it seems both more honest for what our students do but also more honest for the variety of things that we honor. I can very honestly say that I am proud of all of them and think they all pretty much rock, and some of them even make me laugh. Yes, even Maxim. Each of them also has a very short bio and a picture on my faculty webpage.

Trying to figure out how to talk about 17 very different people is hard, I’m not quite sure where to start, so I’m going to go with my single graduate student, Abby Barrows. Abby stays busy. Her second co-authored publication, on microplastics in the Hudson River, was just published and she is currently working on three more papers (that she has told me about), a couple of them from her work with Adventure Scientists, as well as a couple of public policy pieces for use by the plastic pollution community. Meanwhile she is running an oyster aquaculture farm on Deer Isle, Maine. Mostly I just try to keep up. We are currently working on a worldwide marine microplastics paper, that we hope to have done by sometime in early/mid fall. She wants it done sooner.


I would say that four of my students fit a relatively traditional field ecology research summer internship. Two of them, Teagan White and Emma Ober, are out at COA’s Mount Desert Rock doing their own research projects while also taking part in the long-term data collection on marine mammals and birds out there. Teagan is looking at current patterns around the rock as her senior project , and doing water samples at the same time when she isn’t honing her carpentry or zodiac driving skills. Emma just finished her first year and is doing an internship with Allied Whale, which means she spends half her time in Bar Harbor and half on Mount Desert Rock. One the rock she is helping with the general research on seals (and seal wounds), birds, and whales. She is also doing her own research project …”looking at the abundances of crab parasites on the island. This study is an extensions of Alyssa Murad’s senior project and I am hoping to compare my results from the island to what she found on the mainland”. Emma is also going to be one of my teaching assistants for marine biology in the fall.


glass frog in Costa Rica

The other two researchers, Xochitl Ortiz Ross and Katie Clark, are off doing field research funded by the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU). Last summer Xochitl was in the Rockies studying marmots on an REU, this summer she is wading through streams in Costa Rica at La Selva through the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) looking for glass frogs. These frogs lay their eggs on leaves, but then the hatching tadpoles need water, so these species lay their eggs on leaves over streams. It is total Animal Planet wonderfulness. Xochitl is looking at differences in oviposition site use by different species of frogs, and gets the award for most awesome picture (I am biased, I studied parental behavior in fishes for a good chunk of my research life).


katie-group-field-data-2017Meanwhile, Katie is working at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Edgewater, Maryland. At SERC, she is working in the Marine Invasions Lab looking at oyster larvae settlement success at various densities and how it might affect population dynamics for a species that is critical in the rehabilitation of this ecosystem.

Okay, time for a break from straight up research. I’m not sure exactly how to define what Maxim Lowe and Rose Edwards are doing this summer. Both are seniors. Both have more broad skills and interests than I can imagine. Both love art and communication. Rose loves biology. Maxim loves eating. I guess I’ll go with the job titles and places. Maxim is working at the Cannery in South Penobscot, and here is his description: “a former canning factory turned into community arts space by local artist Leslie Ross. Leslie is a professional bassoon maker and sound artist. She is turning the building into a venue for concerts, open mics, and long-term installations. This intersection of community and art is precisely the kind of magic I hope to engage and create throughout my life; so, this summer, I am Leslie’s right hand”. Maxim has been working on graphics, websites, social media and developing the space. He is also working on his own art that he hopes to display there. Meanwhile, Rose is in Southern Maine, living and working on Cliff Island Maine for Cliff Island ACE– where ACE stands for athletics, conservation, and eduation (I had to look that up). Rose puts on community events, which mostly means things for kids, like cooking nights, sandcastle competitions (I’ve included a picture), sports, games, crafts, and more. “I’m living in a tiny cabin by the ocean with no electricity or plumbing (but with a stellar view) with another COA student, Grace Brown. She is working for ACE’s invasive species management program.” Interestingly, both of them sent pictures of houses where they are this summer, to see what they look like, you should check out their pictures on the advisee web site, however, Maxim just sends me pictures of him eating food. Rose will begin co-editing/writing this blogpost starting in the fall (perhaps with a Cliff Island post?).  The final picture below is from Rose, its from a sand castle event, and she calls it green crab on barbecue.  Hmmm.



I have three students that are interested in veterinary medicine, a senior, Renate Braathen, is doing an internship at Beech Hill farm this summer, where she says “It’s fun to be part of a small crew, and I’m learning a lot about food production and organic farming”. Renate will be finishing up at COA this fall working on her senior project, co-advised by a philosopher and a physicist pair that includes a field guide to Archimedean Geometry. Two other pre-vet students, Siobhan Rickert and Amruta Valiyaveetil are spending the summer working with vets in a range of settings. Siobhan, another senior, has been working for the third summer in a row for an emergency vet cline in San Francisco, but has been feeling the pressure of getting ready to do her senior project this fall in Chile comparing different approaches to veterinary medicine. This might account for the slightly scary cat photo. As she said in her email “In all honestly most of my summer has been me staring at my computer working on vet school apps and my senior project which doesn’t make for the most entertaining pictures”.

Meanwhile, Amruta is doing very cool stuff, but doesn’t communicate unless she is sitting in front of me. This spring she did a residency in India, one of our non-traditional ways to do a term, where she combined several ideas to study veterinary medicine in Mumbai, and then was planning to go to Kenya to work with on elephant veterinary medicine. I know she is still alive because she registered for classes for the fall, but like I said, she isn’t sitting in front of me. Needless to say, no cute elephant pictures for the blog.

I also have two students that are doing work in environmental education. Nick Tonti is working as an Outdoor Education Instructor for the Maria Mitchell Association in Nantucket. In addition to taking kids around the island, mixing marine biology, policy, and citizen science Nick is also doing a research project on how the strength of byssal threads in mussels are affected by water temperature. Nick is going to spend his junior year at St. Andrews in Scotland taking classes, before coming back and practicing weird Scottish accents on all of us. Meanwhile another third year student, Heather Sieger took off to County Kerry, Ireland, to intern with Sea Synergy Marine Awareness & Activity Centre (hmm, another accent possibility).  Heather is going to continue to be one of my workstudy research assistants this fall, along with Rose.


My two Knox County advisees have particularly quiet this summer. Morgan Heckerd was off in June to do the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage with some family and then I think by herself, and I assume she is back in Camden, Maine, where she was going to spend the rest of the summer changing things up and working at a restaurant and sailing. The last two summers Morgan has been on Monhegan Island working more than full time at a farm and at a bed and breakfast. Meanwhile Kenya Perry is somewhere near Camden as well, working away but keeping away from any electronic communication while she figures out her senior project in nutrition.

bianca summer 2017My last three advisees are my new advisees who have just finished their first year. All of them went back ‘home’, Bianca Massacci went back to Sardinia, where she has been catching up with friends and family, and has been spending some time at the university talking to people about internship opportunities in biology and environmental engineering for next summer. Chantal Tonnessen Smeland is back in Norway catching up after a concussion in the fall set her back a bit, but she is getting caught up over the summer when she isn’t reading, drawing, getting out into nature, or finding ways to protest neo-nazis in Norway and I’m looking forward to having her back at full speed this fall.


Chantal reading material (not light) and drawings

Last but not least,


Allie has been working and traveling this summer and just got back to me, and if I’m getting the details right she has been working at home and looking after disabled children, and had travels that include Florida, Maine (and into Canada), and Wyoming. I don’t think they teach geography in Colorado schools,because these places are really far apart. She also really likes snails.

So, although I think these guys are exceptional, I also think they are representative, with the strong caveat that there is a pretty strong bias for biology and ocean stuff, which isn’t too surprising for advisees of a professor of biology that works on marine organisms.

So, where am I this summer.  Below is a picture of Helen and me paddling yesterday morning on Lobster Lake.  Hope everyone is having a good summer.  Chris  7/26/17


Chris Petersen is Associate Academic Dean, Director of Graduate Studies, and Professor of Evolutionary Ecology, Marine Biology and Policy at College of the Atlantic and wonders if any of those titles come with extra work.

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Turbulent Times

This month, a story from a COA alum who has gone on to research marine ecology beyond Frenchman Bay. Eliza Oldach (class of 2015) has recently returned from a Fulbright project in New Zealand, where she studied coastal ecology with the Marine Ecology Research Group at University of Canterbury. For more of her stories on science and New Zealand, check out her blog, Zeacology.

The shaking woke me up, as it did everyone.

In the early hours of November 14th, New Zealand was rocked by a 7.8 magnitude quake, the biggest felt in the country since 1855. It caused serious damage across a swathe of the country from Wellington to Kaikoura, and serious alarm for the rest. In the days and weeks following the quake, national attention was fixed on the areas with the most extreme damage and the greatest need for emergency aid.


Faults ruptured in November quake (credit: GNS Science).

Biological and geological systems were just as disrupted as human ones. The emergency scientific response followed closely on the heels of humanitarian aid, as biologists and geologists hurried to impacted areas to document the quake’s effect on natural systems.

One of the most immediately obvious effects was a significant amount of coastal uplift. Shifting fault lines had pushed rock above the ocean, lifting areas that were previously underwater and visibly altering coastlines. The University of Canterbury’s Marine Ecology Research Group (MERG), my host for the year, followed these updates closely. Some of our field sites were in the center of the uplifted zones, and we hurried to get to those sites and record the changes to coastal ecology as soon as possible.

We mapped out points along the coast to visit, choosing bays that had experienced a range of uplift intensity to understand responses to varying levels of disturbance. In addition to establishing new plots in these areas, however, we also wanted to return to the places where we’d sampled before. Over twenty years ago, researchers from MERG had established long-term monitoring sites at three sites along the coast— Cape Campbell, Kaikoura, and Moeraki. By returning to these sites and repeating sampling every season for several decades, MERG had established a robust baseline of the seaweed community. We knew that severe uplift along the coast would impact seaweeds, and by returning to areas where we had baseline data we’d be able to provide detailed evidence of those changes.


The Kaikoura coast, pre- and post-quake (credit: NASA Earth Observatory Images by Joshua Stevens)

In the week following the earthquake, I joined the sampling trip to our site at Cape Campbell (north of Kaikoura– see map, above) . With the roads south of the Cape closed, the normal route from Christchurch was impassable. Instead, I hopped on a puddle jumper to Blenheim, and was met by my labmate Shawn to drive to the Cape from the north.

Changes to the coastline were visible even on our drive out to the field site. Rock platforms usually tucked below tide were well above water. When we ventured out onto those platforms, gumboots on and quadrats in hand, the changes were even more dramatic.

The reef had lost its color. The dominant seaweed, Hormosira, usually forms an olive-hued cover over much of the rock, interspersed with purple Lophothamnion, bright green Ulva, and ruby-brown Champia. This time, the Hormosira was brown and crisped from sun exposure. The Lophothamnion was dark and scraggly, and the Champia had gone completely clear. Underlying turfs and encrusting corallines, usually a healthy pink crust beneath the seaweed canopies, had bleached to a sickly white. It looked like a seaweed graveyard.


Stark changes in the reef community (credit: EO).

We continued out along the rock platforms, traveling from the Hormosira zone to lower elevations. Here, Hormosira should be replaced by subtidal seaweed species, the massive Durvilleae and Carpophyllum. This time, those subtidal seaweeds were still present, but ailing—the Durvilleae changing from golden to dark brown, the Carpophyllum blackened and crisped.

We started looking for our historic survey sites, unsure whether the marker bolts had survived the quakes. A few moments of searching revealed them, completely intact, their pink zip ties a bright marker against the new brown and white cast of the reef. We threw down a quadrat, and knelt to assess the scene in more detail. Some water was held in the cracks and pits of the rock, and in those places the seaweeds maintained their structure and color. Predominantly, though, they were out of any water cover, left to dry and wither in the sun. We also noticed a lack of invertebrates in the plots. Usually, the seaweed is crawling with Lunella and Melagraphia snails, a smattering of crabs, perhaps the odd sea slug. Now, A few limpets held on to areas protected by seaweed canopy, and anemones hunkered down in pits in the rock, but other than that it was an empty scene.


Paul amidst bleached corallines and blackened Durv (credit: EO).

There was another obvious change, too. Normally, our trips to Cape Campbell have to be carefully timed. The species we study exist in a narrow slice of time and space between high tide and low. More often than not, we were chased back to land by the rising tide before we’ve finished all of our surveys.

No longer. On the post-quake visit, we spent hours on the reef. We finished our surveys for the day, moved on to collect more data and set up new permanent plots, messed about with oxygen probes and temperature loggers, stopped to share coffee from a thermos—and still the rising tide hadn’t covered our sites.

Small wonder, then, that the seaweeds were stressed and the invertebrates had vanished. These species have adapted to life in specific conditions—they can handle a moderate amount of sun and wind exposure, but they’re already on the physiological brink. A lift of even 30 centimeters increases the amount of time intertidal organisms have to withstand heat and desiccation stress. At Cape Campbell, the amount of lift was estimated to be closer to two meters.


Shawn and Paul survey the dying Durv zone (credit: EO).

I thought I’d be prepared for these changes, but I wasn’t. Seeing the Cape, changed as it was, was shocking. My research mates agreed. Paul South, seaweed aficionado, had travelled from Nelson to help Shawn and I for the day. He was surprised by the state of the reef, too, comparing it to an atmosphere that’s suddenly lost most of its oxygen.

“Which would you prefer?” he asked us. “To lose 100% of the atmosphere’s oxygen all at once and be dead immediately, or to be down to 40% oxygen and hang on for a slow decline?”

Looking at the stressed reef around us, the metaphor struck home. It was a grim image, this decline of seaweed communities that were once rich with life.


The reef, as of January. Lots of Ulva, but no canopy species (credit: Shawn Gerrity).

Since I’ve returned to the States, MERG researchers have continued their sampling trips out to the reefs at Cape Campbell and Kaikoura.  I’ve been following along, taking breaks from the upended politics in this country to check in on the upended reefs in New Zealand. Intertidal communities are still in a state of flux. By now, most of the large canopy-forming seaweeds like Hormosira, Durvilleae, and Carpophyllum have died off completely in the zones they used to dominate. They’ve been replaced by large swathes of weedy Ulva. Bleached coralline turfs are beginning now to break off of the mudstone substrate of the rocky reefs, and the exposed stone is increasingly eroding into a fine silt that coats the intertidal zone. Dead algae is washing up in mats of wrack along the coastline. And the invertebrates? Some limpets remain, and feast readily on the abundant Ulva, but the highly diverse invertebrate communities that existed pre-quake have disappeared— after all, there’s no habitat for them to recolonize. In the most recent update, MERG researchers put it this way: “no obvious ‘recovery’ is happening anywhere so far.”

The changes that have occurred in the seaweed communities are troubling in their own right, but also have consequences for the related human communities, and particularly for the communities of Kaikoura. Kaikoura’s economy rests largely on fishing and tourism, and the uplift throws the future of these industries into question. Key fishery species, like paua (abalone) and crayfish, relied on healthy seaweed forests that have disappeared. Now these species’ populations are at risk. Tourism was hampered on land by the damage to roads into and out of Kaikoura, but it’s been threatened at sea, too: uplift in Kaikoura’s harbor has made it impossible for the popular whale watch boats to access the marina except at high tide. Since the quakes, some progress has been made. Fishery closures are beginning to lift, roads are opening for traffic at specific times of day, and the whale watch is operating tours on a limited basis. Still, the dramatic change to the coastline has been sorely felt by local communities.


Dredging Kaikoura’s harbor to allow ship passage (credit: Shawn Gerrity).

According to ecological theory, the new intertidal zone will develop again into stable, diverse seaweed communities if given enough time. Human infrastructure, too, will likely be rebuilt to a functional state, if given enough funding. One could predict that, in a few years or decades, the coastal communities of Kaikoura and Cape Campbell will have fully “recovered”.

But in observing the earthquake and its impacts, it’s impossible not to be reminded of the future facing our coastlines. In the coming decades, coastal communities will be subject to an unrelenting slew of physical changes just as stressful as the uplift— sea level rise, sea temperature warming, stronger hurricanes, lengthier droughts, and on and on and on. And I think, just as with the earthquake, we’ll see those changes reverberate back and forth between ecological communities and human ones. In a point of crisis, those connections will become more evident than ever.

But maybe there’s a role for human ecologists to identify those links before the crisis point is reached, and start now to provide data and policy and communication and art to reveal and strengthen them. And maybe that knowledge will help contribute to resilience when these crises arrive. I really don’t know— but maybe.

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What we are doing with our winter break

by Chris Petersen

It is winter break and my students are dispersed around the country and the world. I’ve just come back from a family visit to California, and wanted to give a flavor of what fall term into winter break actually means for COA students. I’ve asked all of my advisees to send along a picture, and have heard from everyone minus one student that is traveling somewhere around the US at the moment.

There was no linear way to go through who is off doing what and where, so I just started with the two students that have been off to conferences.  Abby Barrows, my grad student, was at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in early December where she gave a talk on her microplastics research,  work that is cosponsored with Adventure Scientists (this is such a cool project, but we will devote a post to it next year -chunks of it form the basis for her Master’s thesis).  She came back from the South Pacific last month and is off to South America for another cruise in February, with an EPA conference snuck in there somewhere. My only fear for Abby is that she is so busy between conferences and expeditions, that she won’t find the time to write up her thesis. It’s not the worst problem.  Meanwhile, one of my two seniors, Michelle Pazmino, is finishing up a tutorial on the UN Conference on Biological Diversity  with COA faculty Doreen Stabinsky and Ken Cline, which meant a December trip to Cancun to attend the meeting.

Michelle’s next stop will be going back home to Quito, and then off to the Galapagos to do her senior project in the Galapagos Marine Reserve. She will be talking with lobster fishermen seeing how they view the most recent changes in fisheries management. She is doing this under the mentorship of Mauricio Castrejón from Conservation International, who did the same interviews with fishermen ten years ago, before the current management scheme was implemented.

I do miss the tropics, and two of my students spent the fall working in programs in much warmer weather. Heather Sieger was on a Sea Semester program in the South Pacific, while Rose Edwards was diving in the Turks & Caicos with a School for Field Studies program.  Rose is off on a Sea Semester trip to New Zealand in January, while Heather is coming back and will be my research assistant here starting winter term. My third student doing a program, Maxim Lowe, is in Taiwan doing a COA term with Bonnie Tai and Suzanne Morse with nine other students. The picture I’ve included from Maxim is of part of the Taiwanese coastline that has been heavily armored with concrete blocks to help prevent inland erosion and damage from storms. He sent me a bunch of beautiful landscapes with mountains and trees and yet I picked the one dominated by concrete because it had the ocean.

Three other students are off doing pre-med/vet/health stuff over break.  Renate Braathen is doing German language classes in Göttingen, which is part of her independent study with Gray Cox. She hopes to go to veterinary school in Germany after graduation.  For the picture, she told me “I’m sitting by the statue of Gänseliesel, which is the most famous landmark in Göttingen. The tradition is that when a student completes his or her PhD, they climb the fountain and kiss the statue.” Meanwhile, Siobhan Rickert, another pre-vet student, is off in California working with a horse vet in the Bay Area, in this picture she is using a laser as part of ‘laser therapy’ which is supposed to improve blood flow to targeted areas and promote healing (hence the cool glasses). Until I see the data I’m a bit skeptical (horse owners can get the placebo effect too).  My other senior, Porcia Manandhar, is back in Nepal for a couple of months (with Annapurna in the background of her selfie) doing her senior project looking at women with HIV/AIDS experience the medical system that has both public and private hospitals. This hasn’t been trivial, Porcia had to go through both the school’s research ethics panel but also had to get permission from the government to do this work. She has both in hand and is going for it in Katmandu.


Meanwhile, several of my advisees are staying close to (their) homes and spending time with parents or friends.  My newest advisee, Emma Ober (with the bright scarf), sent a picture hiking with her mom up Mad River Glen to go skiing.  Teagan is also back in Vermont, working on a couple of Gloucester Gull dories with her dad, I must say that these are very sleek looking dories.

Katie Clark is back in California, after spending time with her mom’s second grade class in Oregon.  She is currently in the bay area, and I’m guessing that this picture might be from Pt. Reyes (?), which has a stunning shoreline.  Meanwhile, Kenya Perry is finishing up an internship in Brunswick at a Natural Food store (Morning Glory), but spends her off time back at the treehouse she built this summer (and sometimes playing cello).  Kenya will be back in the winter to focus on nutrition and outdoor education.  Finally, Morgan Heckerd left Maine and spent some time at Standing Rock, but now is back on the Maine Coast for Christmas.

In the language of COA we would call all of these things expeditionary. About half of these students used part of their $1800 expeditionary fund to help support their work.  I want to thank all of the other faculty that have helped my students get these opportunities, Netta van Vliet, Ken Cline, Doreen Stabinsky, Bonnie Tai, Gray Cox, and Suzanne Morse all have official roles with at least one of these opportunities and I’m sure many faculty played a hand in helping students get this happening.

We often talk about the importance of what COA students do outside of class as being as important as what they do in their classes. There is certainly truth to that, although there are times when I think its hard to tell the difference between work inside and outside of the classroom. Counting through these students, 7 of the 13 have been doing  work off campus that is part of a class, internship, or senior project.

For all of my advisees, their general backgrounds and what they are trying to accomplish are also listed on my faculty website under current advisees, except for Heather who sneaks in by being my workstudy.  Perhaps I need to do those updates soon guys, I promise any new info you have sent or send me soon will get put in pronto.

To all of my current advisees, thanks for sending stuff in, and Amrita, I’m expecting to hear from you when you get back from your jaunt around the U.S. I’m quite proud of all of these students, and in my imagination I sometimes believe that I actually have something to do with their accomplishments. Yeah, but really I mostly just get out of their way.  Again, I’m a bit envious of the lives they are leading, and I would be even more envious, except that Thursday night my wife and two daughters all made it back to our house in Bar Harbor, and we just went into the backyard and cut a tree, which is now rocking the living room (but is in need of some ornaments).  Good times.  I’ll pair it up with a Christmas tree worm from Rose, and call it a night.  Time to go play games with my family (it looks like anagrams, I’m about to be killed).  Happy holidays everyone.







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