Alewives and Spring Cleaning

Editor’s note: This is the second in several 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 – Chris 

By: Katie Clark, Melisa Chan, and Meret Jucker

Optimal V for Fish Passageway - Photo Credit - Billy Helprin

Optimal “V” for Fish Passageway – Photo credit – Billy Helprin

On Friday, April 15th, we, as part of the Fisheries, Fishermen, and Fishing Communities class at COA, worked with the Somes-Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary to clean out and rebuild sections of the fish passages in Somesville in preparation for the spring alewife run. As part of our trip, we talked with Billy Helprin (Director of the Sanctuary), Bruce Connery (National Park Service), and Tim Garrity (Executive Director of the MDI Historical Society) about the history of Somesville and the fish passages. What follows is a snapshot of what we learned and experienced!

History of Somesville and Somes Sound

Historic Somes Sound Compared to Present Day - Photo Credit - Natalie Springuel

Historic Somes Harbor Compared to Present Day – Photo Credit – Natalie Springuel.  Inset picture of painting “Bar Island and Mt Desert Mountains from Sommes Settlement” by Fitz Henry Lane, 1850, courtesy Mount Desert Island Historical Society.


In 1762, Abraham Somes sailed from Massachusetts to Maine, where he established the earliest European settlement on Mount Desert Island (MDI). As requested by the governor of Massachusetts, which MDI was once a part of, Somes also established mills – sawmills, grist mills, and carding mills – powered by dams built on brooks. The flourishing industry made the town the most populated on the island and catalyzed further development throughout MDI. In honor of his work, the town and the sound adjacent to it were named Somesville and Somes Sound respectively.

Tim Garrity (Executive Director of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society) - Photo Credit - Billy Helprin

Tim Garrity (Executive Director of the Mount Desert Island Historical Society) Explaining the Historical Context of Somesville and Somes Sound – Photo Credit – Billy Helprin

In addition to mills, the geography and depth of Somes Sound made it a strategic place for shipbuilding and loading of materials. Somes Sound was carved out by glaciers, and its steep underwater slopes allowed large ships to enter and dock alongside its banks. The shipbuilding industry boomed in Somesville, and other industries (mills, granite quarries, and logging) expanded, establishing Somesville as one of the most prominent towns on MDI at the time.Today, Somesville is a quiet community with minimal industry where the spring alewife run is the biggest action on the water.






Alewife - Photo Credit - Deparment of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (httpmaine.govifwfishingspeciesidentificationalewife.htm)

Alewife –  Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (

Alewives, together with blueback herring, are known as river herring. The name river herring reflects their anadromous life-style, which means they spend most of their life in the sea but return to the river, lake, or pond they were born to spawn. River herring are distinct from the related Atlantic herring, which spends its entire life cycle in the ocean.

Adults alewives reach 10 to 12 inches in size. Males usually return to spawn after three years, whereas the females stay at sea a year or two longer. Alewives typically migrate up river from early May to around mid-June on Mount Desert Island. The females lay their eggs in lakes, ponds, and still backwaters. A female alewife can produce between 60,000 to 100,000 eggs. Though these numbers might seem quite high, the actual number of survivors that make it past the juvenile stage can be as low as three.

Historically, almost every coastal river and stream in Maine had alewife runs. As dams were built along Maine rivers and river pollution increased, alewife populations began to decrease greatly. Alewives bring nutrients from the sea upstream and play an important role in the ecosystem of their spawning grounds. The young fish also incorporate phosphorus into their bodies as they grow, reducing the concentration of that nutrient, associated with algal blooms, when they emigrate.

Alewives were mainly caught for human consumption, as they preserved well in salt or when smoked. The introduction of refrigeration and the use of more sophisticated fishing gear, resulted in other fish becoming more popular as food. With ever decreasing populations, the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) put restrictions on the commercial fishery. With an initial 24 hour closure, the hope was to slow the decline. As population counts weren’t showing the desired recovery, 48 and subsequently 72-hour closures were implemented. The current state closures are from 6 a.m. on Thursday to 6 a.m. on Sunday, unless towns have further restrictions or closures.

The Somes-Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary

Over two hundred years after Abraham Somes first arrived on MDI, one of his descendents, Dr. Virginia Somes Sanderson, started working towards the creation of a wildlife sanctuary on Somes Pond. In 1985, this idea became a reality with the creation of the Somes-Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary and the donation of 33 acres along Somes Pond by Dr. Sanderson. Since then, the Sanctuary has grown to over 230 acres in the Somes Pond watershed. The Sanctuary was created for charitable, educational, and scientific purposes, and as such, has undertaken a variety of community and conservation projects in the area.

Billy Helprin (Director of the Somes-Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary) - Photo Credit - Katie Clark

Billy Helprin (Director of the Somes-Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary) – Photo Credit – Katie Clark

One of these projects involves the restoration of anadromous fish species in the Mill Pond watershed, which includes over 1,000 surface acres of lake and stream habitat. This project began in 2005 and brings together a diverse group of organizations and individuals to restore and protect historic runs and nursery habitats of native fish populations, including alewives, American eels, and sea lampreys.

Mikey and Nick (COA Students) with (National Park Service) - Photo Credit - Billy Helprin

Mikey and Nick (COA Students) with (National Park Service) – Photo Credit – Billy Helprin

So far, this project has involved repairing and modifying four deteriorated fishways, installing an educational exhibit at the historic Mill Pond, and collecting data of alewife populations during their spring spawning runs. Volunteers sign up to count the number of alewives that move through the fishways in the spring, and this data is collected and compared to past years to monitor the recovery of the species. Scale samples are also taken and later analyzed by the Division of Marine Resources to assess fish age and number of repeat spawners.

Photo Credit - Natalie Springuel

Photo Credit – Natalie Springuel

And the restoration seems to be working! Almost no fish were counted in 2004 before fishway restoration efforts began. The fish responded rapidly after the passage was improved and stewardship efforts were undertaken. The Somes Pond-Long Pond Alewife population has more than doubled from where they were even five years ago. The numbers have jumped from fewer than 15,000 in 2011 to over 35,000 in 2014. And there are high hopes for the numbers in 2016. Alewives usually take four years to reach sexual maturity. Because of the higher numbers in 2012, the Sanctuary is hoping for a step up in numbers this year, potentially as many as 50,000 alewives! Check out the full data chart here.

The Fish Ladder Field Trip

After the information session with Billy, Bruce, and Tim, the class grabbed waders and hopped in! We were all really excited to get some hands-on experience working with the fishways.

Mill Pond Fish Ladder - Photo Credit - Natalie Springuel

Mill Pond Fish Ladder – Photo Credit – Natalie Springuel

At the fishway directly off of Mill Pond, we worked to clear out branches and other debris caught in the ladder over the winter. This involved using rakes and shovels to feel for blockages. The class removed a large piece of a branch that had been stuck, and the water flowing through the passageway instantly picked up speed. We also found a baffle, one of the wooden sections that make up the fish ladder, that had lost one of its pieces. We removed the broken baffle in preparation for rebuilding and replacement. One of the students laid on top of the baffles to check each one for structural integrity – some of us thought she was crazy!

Chris Petersen and COA Students at the Somes Pond Fish Passageway - Photo Credit - Natalie Springuel

Chris Petersen and COA Students at the Somes Pond Fish Passageway – Photo Credit – Natalie Springuel

At the fishway near the cemetery, the class ran into a bit of trouble. One of the boards put in to prevent alewives from trying to travel straight up the dam instead of using the intended passage was not going in. To deal with this issue, the class got resourceful. Using our classmates and tools as stabilizers, Chris Petersen and Katie Clark jumped on the boards until they sat level on the creek bottom. In the process, Chris flooded his boots, and consequently, his socks, but we were rewarded for our efforts with a perfectly placed dam.

The middle fishway needed the most work by far. Winter storms had broken some of the walls and clogged the brook with debris and shifted stones. The class spent a majority of the time working on this passageway, which included chipping chunks of cement blocks to make a nice V-shaped channel and reinforcing the tumbled down walls. We are delighted to report that the fishway looks much stronger and more open than it did before!

Middle Fish Passageway - Photo Credit - Billy Helprin

Middle Fish Passageway – Photo Credit – Billy Helprin

Despite leaky waders, including Melisa’s right boot, the class had an amazing time helping with the preparation of the fish ladders. It allowed us to hopefully make a tangible impact on a species in our region and to interact with people who put an incredible amount of work into the preservation of this environment for the future. We were able to engage with our community in a way that truly felt important and useful. By literally jumping into the work on the creeks, we were able to engage with the past, present, and future of the Somes Pond alewife run, and that was truly a rewarding experience.

For more information on the history of Somesville, the Somes-Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary, the Somesville Fish Passage Restoration Project, or the other amazing work happening at the Sanctuary, check out the Sanctuary website and the Sanctuary Facebook Page.

The Whole Gang - Photo Credit - Michael Marion (National Park Service)

The Whole Gang – Photo Credit – Michael Marion (National Park Service)

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Between a Rock and a Weed Place

Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post from two students in COA’s Fisheries, Fishermen, and Fishing Communities Class that I am co-teaching with Natalie Springuel, Maine Sea Grant marine extension associate at COA) – Chris Petersen 

By: Maddie Kellett and Melisa Chan

 On April 2, 2016, the Frenchman Bay Partners (FBP) hosted the Rockweed Meeting at the Sullivan Recreational Center. The meeting was held to address an important question – who owns the rockweed? (Note: rockweed is a general term for several species of brown algae, but rockweed harvesting is directed at one species – Ascophyllum nodosum) Landowners wanted more control of rockweed harvesting in the intertidal which they believe is part of their property. For those of you who don’t know what rockweed is, don’t feel alone, because neither did we. Plus, we did not think rockweed harvesting could be related to our class that focuses on “fisheries” and “fishing”. But after spending a few hours in the meeting with our peers and a panel of experts, we realized that there is much more to rockweed than meets the eye.

Although the meeting was held because of conflicts over rockweed ownership, the goal of the FBP meeting was to exchange information. One of our main concerns was how the attendees would keep an open mind to hearing opposing opinions in order to best exchange important information and knowledge about the biology and harvest of rockweed. This is because we anticipated that there might be a flair of emotions from people highly invested in either the rockweed industry and rockweed conservation.

picture 1

It was great to see over 70 people show up to this meeting. This really showed us that rockweed is a big deal in the local communities and the state of Maine. There were representatives from a wide range of organizations, communities, industries and universities. Photo credit: Hannah Webber

The meeting had a group of 6 panelists who answered questions and gave information about rockweed from their associated perspectives and expertise. Four of these panelists also gave presentations during the first half of the meeting. Robin Hadlock Seeley, a biologist from the Shoals Marine Lab presented on the biology and ecology of rockweed. Jeff Romano, the Public Policy Manager from the Maine Coast Heritage Trust explained the history of legal disputes between rockweed harvesters and landowners. The perspective of a rockweed harvester was presented by Raul Ugarte, a marine biologist associated with Acadian Seaplants Limited. As an associate professor at the Maine Maritime Academy, Jessica Muhlin enlightened us on the reproductive biology of rockweeds. The other two panelists were George Seaver, the vice president of Ocean Organics Company, and Bob Morse, the founder of North American Kelp.

We observed four perspectives that most people generally lumped into over the course of the meeting, and were expressed clearly during the presentations. The first camp was the conservationists who felt that the rockweed harvesting industry was not ecologically sustainable and it changed the habitat significantly through morphology of the rockweed and the other species that took over an area once rockweed was harvested. Robin’s presentation greatly reflected this argument, stating in the conclusion of her presentation that rockweed harvesting was not ecologically sustainable. The second camp was the harvesters/industry who feel that their harvesting methods do not harmfully degrade the rockweed habitat. This was especially seen in Raul’s presentation, showing pre- and post-harvest pictures of rockweed areas along the coast of Nova Scotia.

The last two camps involve the legal side of rockweed ownership, with one believing that rockweed is alluvial and part of the land thereby owned by the landowners (explicitly expressed by Jeff and MCHT), and the second camp believing that it is non-alluvial and is part of the sea therefore not privately owned (opined by George). Personally, we both believe that rockweed is non-alluvial as they do not have roots but a holdfast that attaches to rocks. But we were still very interested in hearing about Jeff’s and others’ opinions.

One of the presentations we found interesting was Jessica’s because, as she mentioned, we never knew much, let alone even think of, how rockweeds reproduce. We enjoyed that she stuck to the facts and did not appear to settle in one of the camps. However, Robin’s and Raul’s presentation struck us the most because their respective data seemed to conflict with each other, especially their claims on the regrowth rates of rockweeds. We also found it surprising that most of the presenters expressed what we saw as blatant opinions on whether or not harvesting was detrimental to rockweed and its habitat. This is because, as science students, we are used to, and expect, presentations that merely display facts without obvious biases.

After the presentations, we were given a short break. This allowed the attendees to mingle, drink coffee, nibble on pastries, and stretch their legs. Being students, we sought out the more interactive and hands-on activities during the break. Jessica had brought examples of female and male specimens of rockweed to complement her presentation. Another attendee, Larch, also brought samples of rockweed that showed the difference in biomass between uncut and cut pieces. It was amazing to see the difference in where the biomass was located on each piece, with the uncut being much longer and the cut piece being wider. Thankfully it wasn’t all that smelly! Larch also put up some of his dried seaweed products and a self-authored cookbook for sale – it was interesting to learn of all the different and healthy ways one can use seaweed in cooking. 

Following the break, the panel session, facilitated by Natalie Springuel who is also our teacher, began to answer questions written and submitted by the attendees. Due to the high volume of people that showed up to this meeting, about 70 questions were submitted. The questions addressed the concerns of all camps of perspectives mentioned earlier. Overall, we found that the most vocal panelists were the company owners, and we assume that this is because they had to know just about everything related to rockweed since it is their livelihood.


Panelists from the left: George, Raul, Jessica, Robin, Jeff, and Bob. Photo credit: Chris Petersen

It was also nice to know that we weren’t the only ones in the room to notice a conflict in the data presented by Robin and Raul, as addressed in a question asking why it appears that rockweed re-grows slower in Maine than in Nova Scotia. The panelists stated that though the data seems to indicate that, they claim that it is because the re-growth rates vary in all areas. This is due to the factors that influence the growth of rockweed, such as light or current, that varies from place to place.

In our opinion, one of the most important questions asked was the difference between mechanical and rake harvesting, as we knew nothing about either harvest method. Although Bob, George and Raul explained the differences, with the mechanical method using a pump and rotating blade to cut the tops of the rockweed, and the rake being a manual method, their explanation made us more confused, especially when it comes to whether the harvesting methods remove the holdfasts of the rockweeds or not. Due to this, we wished that more explanation, and perhaps a (visual) demonstration of both methods.

There were some topics that created heated exchanges between the panelists, particularly between Bob and Robin. This made some of us feel a tad uncomfortable. However, Natalie successfully navigated through the questions and allowed everyone to speak, while preventing arguments at the same time. She also constantly acknowledged the appreciation to the panelists for answering these questions, which helped to diffuse any potential conflicts.

The final question asked of the panel was what were the next steps for rockweed harvesting in Maine and if consensus could be reached between all the camps. Natalie allowed each panelist to answer, which we felt really brought an encompassing and positive end to the meeting. Jeff addressed the question of ownership, stating that a current court case will help definitively answer the alluvial/non-alluvial conflict. We are interested in the outcome of that court case, but are saddened that the final decision is still a year or two away. We felt that Raul made a very important and thoughtful comment that in order for anything to happen in the future regarding rockweed, all information needs to be put forward for decisions to be made. Bob on the other hand was a little more callous and unsupportive of potential future decision, stating that he would not be part of a consensus. His honesty took us aback, and really opened our eyes to how strongly set people are in their camps.

Even though a lot of information was presented at this meeting, we felt that the initial purpose of this meeting was not largely reflected in the questions and discussions. We felt that most of the questions and heated replies focused on the conservation, biology, and impact of harvesting activities rather than ownership. But overall, the experience was thought-provoking, and something we would like to experience again. As students living on MDI and taking a fishing community class, we want to soak up as much information as possible about the current fisheries-related events and issues in the local area. We also feel the need for a field trip coming for our class to visit Bob’s rockweed harvesting company in the very near future…

April 11 update: Frenchman Bay Partners has established a website with information from the meeting with additional information supplied by the participants, including some of their presentations:

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Marine Mammal Conference

By M. Motley (w/ edits by Chris Petersen)

Students and scientists alike “geeked-out” at the bi-annual Marine Mammal Conference organized by the Society for Marine Mammaology, where marine mammal researchers from 72 countries gathered this past December in San Francisco.  There were over 3,000 people attending this event, including just about every big name in the marine mammal world.  Nine students from College of the Atlantic attended and presented their own research, including Marina Cucuzza (’16), Olivia Bolus (’16), Matthew Messina (’16), Grace Shears (’17), Abby St. Onge (’17), Siobhan Rickert (’18), and graduate students Evan Henerberry (’17), Lindsey Jones (’17), and Maddie Kellett (’17).  There weren’t a lot of other undergraduates at the meeting, and some of the COA students were mistaken for PhD students.  I spoke with Marina Cucuzza (’16), Grace Shears (’17), and Siobhan Rickert (’18) about their experience at the conference.


(Left to right) Molly Martin (’15), Abby St. Onge, Matt Messina, Marina Cucuzza, Evan Henerberry, Lindsey Jones, Olivia Bolus, Siobhan Rickert, and Grace Shears.

To say that the students had an amazing time is an understatement; when I talked to Marina, Grace, and Siobhan, their faces positively glowed when they relived the experience.  They not only saw their idols speak, but the students met them and received their advice.  Dr. Ann Pabst, Dr. Jeremy Goldbogen, and Dr. Peter Tyack are just a few of the big names that the students talked to- names that they have consistently cited in their own work.

Meeting a top researcher in your field might sound intimidating, but according to the three students I spoke with, the top-scientists were just as excited to meet them.  As Dr. Ann Pabst was watching a PhD student present, Siobhan said that Pabst was “hard-core geeking out about how exciting it was.”  Just imagine that your idol is watching you- still a student- present your research, and that your idol is not only genuinely interested but overly enthusiastic.

Grace was especially thrilled to meet Dr. Ann Pabst.  Like Pabst, Grace is extremely interested in beaked whales, specifically their anatomy and physiology.  To meet somebody at the top of your field, interested in the same obscure detail as you, is not an experience to forget.  This was a fantastic opportunity for students to get the most up-to-date information in marine mammal science, get career advice from scientists, talk to other students about labs they have worked for, and to network.

“It’s helpful to know what’s going on now, so that we can figure out what we potentially want to do in the future, or maybe even work with these researchers.”  – Grace Shears (’17)

A lot of the information at the conference was based on unpublished work.  It can take years for an article to get published, so the conference is one of the best ways to get information out as soon as possible.  The conference also included raw footage- something that wouldn’t exactly make it into a scientific article.  Students felt “honored to see” this side of the research.  Not only were they honored, but they were also inspired by the positive vibe at the conference.  There is often a pessimistic view around extinction and what global warming will do to our oceans, but everyone at the conference was full of hope that the oceans will recover.


Clockwise from upper left. Marina presenting her poster; Olivia proudly standing by her poster; Evan, Olivia and (below) Grace hanging out at a poster session, and Siobhan with her poster.

The event was also incredibly reassuring for the COA students.  College of the Atlantic is extremely well-known in the marine mammal field and recognized as an excellent school for marine biology.  Many of the researchers knew of COA alum in the marine mammal field.  There were a few COA alum and old Allied Whale interns that attended the event.  Alum Zack Klyver even arranged a dinner for the alums and current COA students to meet.  It’s always exciting to see COA students become “real scientists!”

So what did the students do to get here?  Each of them worked on a marine mammal project and presented their research during a poster session at the conference.  Although the students worked out of Allied Whale, most of the work was collaborative with another set of researchers from different institutions.  So at the meeting, not only did they present their findings,  but they were able to meet the researchers that they collaborated with.

Grace and Siobhan have been working on a project started by Peter Stevick at Allied Whale.  The project was in collaboration with the Reykjavik Marine Research Institute in Iceland.   Their goal was to map migratory patterns of Icelandic whales.  They had about 200 photographs of whale flukes to go off of, so they don’t have enough data to say anything for sure.  However, out of their samples, the number one breeding area for Icelandic whales seemed to be the Dominican Republic.  This is a project that Allied Whale will continue in the future.  Grace is actually going to Iceland this summer to begin her senior project, a new project on Icelandic Humpback Whales at the Reykjavik Marine Research Institute. She will be looking at the distinctive marks we use to identify individual whales, and which kinds of marks are retained, which fade with time, and how this affects our estimates of population size. Since she met the researchers at the Marine Mammal Conference and likes them, she is significantly more relaxed about her internship.

Marina has been working with researchers in Azores, Portugal to search for migratory stop over points for humpback whales using photo identification.  A stop over point is a temporary foraging ground used during migration, often called a “Snack Bar.” Using photographs of whale flukes that date back to 1990, she described the Azores as a stopover site for humpback whales traveling from the Cape Verdes and going to Norway.  Although Marina will not continue this project, Allied Whale now has a database for Azores and will be taking on the project.

Going to conferences is something COA strongly encourages its students to do, and if you are presenting you can use your expeditionary funds towards the costs of the meeting. Doing work that can be presented at a conference isn’t trivial, it involves a lot more than a project in a class, and the students at Allied Whale were typically working for over a year on their project at Allied Whale before heading off to the meeting.  We know there are students heading off to the Geological Society of America meeting in March, and students in several disciplines go off every year with or without professors to present work at meetings. At COA, we just happen to be lucky enough to have Allied Whale on campus, and thanks to the hard work by Rosie, Tom, Peter, and director Sean Todd as well as past efforts by Judy Allen, Steve Katona, and others, COA is able to offer some really unique opportunities.  If you are interested, go talk to them, its the office on the third floor of Turrets with the best view of the water that is full of fins and flukes.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Hawksbill Recovery

Editor’s note: Madeline has been off all fall doing fieldwork in Hawaii, I’ve asked my co-editor to help us get back in the swing of things by starting off talking about Hawaii, turtles, and opportunities for other students – Chris

by M Motley

It’s no secret that I like turtles.  When I struggled to write my internship and senior project proposal, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just write, “I like turtles,” over and over.  I know at least one other turtle enthusiast attending COA, and I sure hope there are more of you.  Not only because I need a group that shares my affinity for turtle-culture, but because Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is hiring!

I spent 10 weeks working for the Hawksbill Turtle Recovery Project, most of the time I spent my time hiking in the back country of the park.  Hawksbill turtles (Honu’ea) are highly endangered, typically less than 20 nesting females (laying 2-5 nests each) total are observed in a season.  However, this past season there were over 60 documented nests.  Hawksbills have been harvested for hundreds of years, for their eggs and their beautiful shell.  Their shells are often sold on the black market and made into “tortoise shell” jewelry.


Hike into Halape.

Honestly, this position is a dream for any COA student, turtle-enthusiast or not.  It completely fits the stereotype of COA- loving adventure, hiking, camping, conservation, and quite a few of us are trying to fulfill these interests through field ecology.  This volunteer position, which may count as your required internship, covers all of these things in abundance.  Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is looking for enthusiastic, positive people to work on the Hawksbill Turtle Recovery Project.

Here’s what you’ll be doing.  You will be hiking, between 5 to 12 miles a day, across Hawaii’s volcanic landscape to isolated nesting beaches.  You will be camping at these beaches for up to 6 nights, monitoring the beach from 5pm – 2am.  Some of these beaches are in the back country of the park, and others are accessed only by 4-wheel driving through private lands.  You will be camping at some beaches that many locals have only been to once.  (People will pay 300 dollars for a day at Pohue, and you will basically live there.)  Your job is to find nesting Hawksbill turtles, mark their nest, measure the turtle, tag the turtle, and ensure that the turtle returns to the ocean safely.  Later in the season your job will also include watching nests when they are expected to hatch, ensure hatchlings reach the ocean safely, and conduct nest excavations of recently hatched nests.  Imagine watching 200 turtles race towards the sea.


Halape, back country of the park.

You’ll need to wake up at 6am and check the beach for turtles or signs of turtle activity- some volunteers have had turtles the moment they woke up.  After you make breakfast at base camp, your job will be to hike to the nearby beaches and check for any sign that a turtle was there in the night.  If there was no activity then you get to go back to base camp and play in the sand, swim, and sleep.

This position isn’t for everyone.  If you know you get cranky on less than 8 hours for sleep, if you can’t stand other people, if you hate walking long distances, and if you can’t poop in a wag bag- don’t apply.  I do have to say this though.  Four hours of sleep per night may sound awful, but when you see a turtle coming out of the water at 1am your adrenaline will wake you right up.  Also, the stars in the backcountry are amazing.  One of the best, non-turtle related things, was the fact that I was able to watch the sun set, watch the stars and moon move throughout the night, study the moon cycle, and also get to wake up just in time for the sunrise.


Green sea turtle (Honu)* at Punalu’u, Black Sand Beach.

I guarantee that you will learn a lot about sea turtles, the ocean, and marine conservation.  As a bonus, you’ll learn all about Hawaii- culture, myths, wildlife, and geology.  You will also be based right in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, so you will have unlimited resources (park employees, books, the visitor center) to learn all about Hawaii.  Did I mention that, when out of the field, you will be a 5 minute walk from an actively erupting volcano?  That’s pretty cool.

Interested?  Here is a link to the job position.

*note: I am not allowed to post pictures of the Hawksbills (eggs, hatchlings, or adults) that I encountered on this project.  There were tons of green turtles around, though!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tidal Mornings

Guest post by Rose Edwards

Sometimes, you have to get out of your comfort zone and do something crazy, just to feel alive and remind yourself that you have the power to break away from the ordinary. Make a bold move. Do the things that scare you. Live a little.

I’ve been doing this at COA by taking on what has become a daily ritual for me. Every morning I wake up, lie in my warm flannel sheets for a few minutes, hearing the ocean call my name, and then I go. I have to.

Donning my reliable black bathing suit and grabbing a towel stiff with salt, I go out to meet the ocean once again. It’s always different. Some mornings it’s smooth like glass, other times it’s boiling and churning, the waves crashing over the side of the dock, with wild wind to ruffle my hair and make my ears numb.

Sometimes I wonder why I do it, particularly on the days when the wind howls and my toes are red with cold before I even reach the water. I think I know, though. I do it because college life is full of challenges, and sometimes I’m not sure if I can face them. Often it’s tempting to give up, stay in bed all day, and say, “To hell with hard things.” But there’s one challenge that I know I can conquer, a challenge that never gets easy — there is always a hesitation when it comes to throwing myself into the steel blue water on a crisp fall morning– but it only takes a second of bravery to complete. Then the hardest part of my day is over and I know I can take on anything that comes my way, because it will be easy in comparison.


After several deep breaths and some contemplation, I leave the dock. There’s no turning back now. I’m in the air and my feet are hitting the water and I think “Oh, why.” The regret is quickly overwhelmed by the icy silence that fills my ears under those blue-green waves. For a few seconds I am surrounded by frigid water and it feels so good. I must not be normal because the feeling of having every part of me supported and held by that cold pressure is my favorite sensation in the world. And it’s so quiet.

No one can reach me here. The brief solitude is bliss, but my lungs beg me to return to the air.

I burst through the surface, gasping at the chilly air and hearing the sizzling of bubbles still popping from when I jumped. I’ve never felt so alive. On nice days I dive down again, relishing the ocean’s icy hands caressing my face, and sweeping down over my whole body. By the time it reaches my toes it bites.

When I am in the ocean, I am connected to all the oceans and everything in them. The intensity of life, death, and birth are all contained within the same waters, no borders. Sometimes I feel that when I’m in the ocean. That killer whale off the coast of Antarctica and I are linked because we are in the same water that flows freely with the currents, tracing the whole world. I like feeling connected. Sometimes it’s scary. Sometimes I think of all the sharks being killed for their fins, all the bycatch getting scooped up to die for nothing, and all the trashed ecosystems; it’s all happening all the time and it never stops. Life is busy in the ocean. For a moment every day, I am part of it.

Pretty soon it is time to get out of the water so I don’t have to take a rescue shower when I get home. I try to avoid needing to take a hot shower because hot showers seem to undo all the good a jump in the ocean does; I no longer have malleable, salty hair, and that feeling of being wide awake is overcome by warm relaxation. So out I come before the hypothermia takes over. I swing a hand up over the edge of the dock and use a crack between the boards to haul myself up; I never use the ladder. I don’t know why. I drip madly onto the wooden dock and sip the salty brine dripping from my eyebrows. I stumble to my towel, a bit numb.

Realizing I have just done something stupid, my circulation goes into overdrive to save me. I appreciate this. There is a new sensation of being warm — not exactly cozy, but fine. Totally fine. No one believes me. They think I’m crazy (for some reason).

I always thank the ocean before I leave.

It’s late October and I haven’t missed a day since August 23rd — I’ve gone in the ocean for over sixty consecutive days. Last year I went in every morning until November 2nd when an ice storm had the nerve to stop me. It’s something I’m committed to without much question, like brushing my teeth. Some days I jump in the ocean more than I brush my teeth, which I know is pretty terrible. I use it as a way to push my reset button. Any stresses that have been nagging me are washed away the second I hit the water. Maybe it’s a spiritual thing, or maybe my brain is just prioritizing survival over worrying about tomorrow’s quiz, which suddenly seems easy in comparison.

I enjoy watching the changes that take place day to day and week to week. Even year to year. I’ve seen dozens more lion’s mane jellyfish this year than last year, and last year the fall foliage burst into life pretty quickly, whereas this year it took its time. The strength of the wind and the changing tides make every day unique. The water always seems warmer when it is high. This might not actually be true. Don’t listen, I’m crazy. I like to swim in the pouring rain.

Soon I will need to stop this daily dip into madness, which is a sad thought. Most people say I should have stopped a while ago, but I know my limits. Do I think I still have toes? Yes? Good to go. Anyway, the dock will be taken in for the winter soon and then things will get more difficult, as I’ll have to go in from the shore and get in sync with the tides. It’s a more complicated process, which makes it easier to give up. It’s also getting rapidly colder, as Maine tends to do in October, so that might inspire me to stop as well. When it hurts and I think I’m getting a brain freeze from the water, it’s time to say goodbye until late April when life in the ocean is bearable once again and I can leap into its chilly depths.

Editor’s note: My co-editor Madeline Motley is in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park hiking to remote beaches to census Hawksbill Turtles, but will be back in 2016 to graduate in June. For the moment I am on my own as editor, but I had a grand total of one suggestion for Rose’s post. Rose is an advisee and a second-year student at COA. Today in Bar Harbor I was at a town marine resource area meeting at the harbormaster’s office when I saw a barge pushing what I think was the COA dock towards winter storage. Starting tomorrow Rose may be stuck entering the water from the beach. – October 21st, Chris Petersen

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Slowfish at COA

by Chris Petersen with some thoughts added  from Marlene Nuart
Photos by Rowan Fraley

I love the ideas of the slowfood movement.  Local food sources, local cuisine, preserving diversity in what we grow, catch, and eat. An alternative to fast food. The name, however, has never resonated.  I always find myself doing a double take, what is slow? Isn’t it just good? So now you have to imagine a fish behavioral ecologist  having to swallow another term, the Slowfish movement. Same premises, same goals, just fish.  Slowfish.  You can imagine the first images coming up in my mind.

But it really is an important movement, and as part of the Slowfood movement, Slowfish came to COA this spring, and is the latest way that COA is combining fisheries into its food systems program.

Like lots of things at COA, this was initiated by students, run by students, and as a faculty member I (Chris) just encourage and let it happen. At one point Davis Taylor was also there with the group, but really, Davis and I were just there to watch, listen, and learn.

This is the third in a May-July series of Madeline and me trying to catch up on some of the things we crammed into May, so with this entry we are being sneaky, we got help from COA student Marlene Nuart, who organized the Slowfish seminar and workshop afterward with a group of students on May 15th. Chris got brought on to help with the seminar that featured UNH student and fisherman Spencer Montgomery; Niaz Dorry, the coordinating director of NAMA, the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, where she has worked advocating for small-scale fisheries, fishermen, and food; and Vera Francis, Vice Chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, fisherwoman, and activist. How everyone even got to the room was typical connecting the dots. Spencer met Marlene at a New England Farm to Institution conference, suggested a panel, COA faculty member Molly Anderson suggested Niaz, who suggested Vera.


Spencer talks about slowfish with students (including Paige Crenshaw, Corneia Brabazon, Shlomit Auciello, and Marlene  with Niaz (orange shirt and vest) and Vera (black jacket) looking on.

But really what the day was about was the food. After the talks, several students joined Spencer and Marlene to make a meal of what they had found locally. Avoiding the obvious lobster, that meant clams, smelts, and bloaters (whole smoked river herring).


Soft-shelled clams

Rainbow smelt

Rainbow smelt

Spencer was awesome, directing people, laughing, listening, pulling out spices, and always engaged. Food prep mean being creative, with smoked herring becoming a spread on bread with pickled radishes, smelt bodies breaded and heads used to make a fish stock to cook risotto in (very rich), and clams turned into linguine with frutti de mare (clams in red sauce).


Terry Price, Spencer, Maxim Lowe, and Marlene taking a break to pose for a camera shot with smelt


Paige and Cornelia doing some food prep

The Davis Center kitchen (downstairs from my office) was a great place for the intimate group to put food together, and everyone clearly had a great time. A major point is to eat what is available, and keep a high consumption biodiversity index, with lots of variety and not being afraid to use an underutilized species not favored in the market. Looking back on it, I think an equally important goal was to have fun with food, to enjoy eachother’s company, and have a good evening together.


The crew working on dinner prep in the Davis Center kitchen


Chris sneaking in some food while COA students Nina Duggan, Lizza Backes, and Katie O’Brien do the work.


Spencer and Marlene show off the finished plates


Above: . Right: Dinner (with roasted potatoes and salad).


How you end a day of learning about fish, a dinner with COA students on the lawn outside the Davis Center

Originally Elmer Beal, cooker of fish extraordinaire and newly minted emeritus anthropology professor at COA  was going to join us, but he had a date with a blood clot, and we are happy to see him around looking happy and healthy again.  When we were doing the dinner we were thinking about you and hoping you recovered fast (we could have used some of your smoked salmon, I think).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Where did May go: Part 2 – Counting clams – what abundance looks like

By Chris Petersen with edits by Madeline Motley


Caption: The crew at Hadley Point. In the foreground COA faculty and historian Todd Little-Siebold talks with commercial clammer David Dunton. Photo by Chris

This is part of a series of Madeline and me trying to catch up on some of the things we have been doing in May and June both on our own and in a class, Ecological Research in Aquatic Systems, where I am the teacher and Madeline is one of the students.

The Saturday after the Frenchman Bay Partners meeting (see our last post), May 9, our class was out with some local clammers, some folks from the Bar Harbor Marine Resource Committee, and a few Bar Harbor residents to do a population survey of soft-shelled clams at Hadley Point. The committee closed this area because there were very few clams large enough to harvest (bigger than 2 inches), but has a lot of little clams.  This was the first survey to see how they survived the epic winter we just went through.  So, how did they do under all that snow?


Caption: Liam Torrey ’16, Ellie Oldach ’15 & Michelle Pazmino ’17 trying to get through a one by two foot plot, measure and count all the clams. Photo by Megan McOsker

Somehow, it seems like all that ice helped.  There were more clams than anyone had ever seen (including guys that have been clamming for 20 or 30 years).  It was just amazing. The average density was over 100 clams per square foot. The average size was just under an inch, but these guys are not quite a year old and we expect that in two years there will be a lot of clams to harvest.

So, why no large clams? Well, once they get above 2 inches they can be harvested – so that isn’t a mystery. But why aren’t there medium-sized guys growing to take their place?  Over the last couple of years we have had harvestable clams around, but haven’t been seeing smaller clams coming into the mudflats. It’s like the clams of 2012 and 2013 were complete reproductive failures.  It isn’t clear if this is because the young never were born, never made it to the mudflat, or if the little guys got to the flats and then died before we could count them.  Clams have a complex life cycle.  This species has a larval stage that spends 2-5 weeks in the water floating around, filter feeding and growing before it lands on a mudflat and transforms into something we would recognize as a baby clam.   So it could just be that the currents never got them here.

However, the leading hypothesis is that a wave of invasive green crabs, Carcinus maenus, rolled into the mudflats like tourists into a Bar Harbor ice-cream shop in the summers of ‘12 and ’13 and ate their way through the small vulnerable clams. Green crabs are an introduced species in Maine, so why not blame a species from away?  Seriously, there is some good evidence that green crabs might explain the size gap in our current clam population.  Green crabs readily eat small clams. The winters of 2012 and 2013 were unusually warm, and there appears to be a correlation with warmer winters and green crab excess in the intertidal. Green crab abundance was so high that it inspired news stories, animations, and the Eastern Maine Skippers Program for high school students to focus on green crab eradication as their year-long project (see our earlier post on this program). Winter in 2014 (and this year as well) were colder and last summer green crabs were at much lower levels in mudflats in Frenchman Bay. Many clammers I talk with believe this is why there are so many small clams on so many clam flats throughout Maine and are hopeful for another year without a green crab explosion in the intertidal and high survival of clams.

This work intersects with us at COA in several ways.  First, Chris was at the Grand in Ellsworth to judge the solutions of six high schools for the “Green Crab Problem.”  Last summer, using money from a grant from the Maine Community Foundation to buy crab traps for clammers, we had students work with clammers to test how well different traps caught green crabs.  In mid-May we also set up some plots at Hadley Point where we are trying to change pH by adding clamshells to the mudflats, a project we hope to talk about a couple of posts down the road.

Okay, that seems like enough for now. Still have a long way to go in May. We have fish scales and ladders, crushed clamshells, historic tide pools, slowfish, and how to net a clamflat to get through the month.  Some last pictures of some more helpers below.


Caption: Left: Emily Hollyday ’15, Linda Mejia Black, and Megan McOsker (both alums) count many tiny, tiny clams. Right: Pedro and Pablo Little-Siebold help Liam and Chris find and count small clams in a plot. Photo by Chris and Christa Little-Siebold. And yes, Megan spends much more time getting good faces of people in her photos, I seem to be good at getting where people part their hair. I’ll work on it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment