Mt Desert Island Biological Lab offers one of those dream opportunities that science teachers truly love: come to the lab for a week, in a simply stunning setting, and learn about Dr. Jane Disney’s eelgrass research in and around Bar Harbor. Well this seemed like a no-brainer. As a matter of fact, I felt like I had won the Superbowl and was about to shout, “I’m going to Disneyland!!”
Upon my arrival in the Magic Kingdom, I was directed to the Oaks – a lovely cabin that is about 60 feet from the ocean – were I will be staying. The cabin has three bedrooms with each room sleeping two. I happen to be staying in room #1 that has an ocean-front view that is to die for and, no room mate. One of the other rooms is home to a visiting medical student from Amsterdam who is studying cellular research, as part of his required courses, for the next 6 weeks.
This morning I met Dr. Disney at her lab in the Hegner building. Dr. Disney has been studying eel grass (Zostera marina) by restoring beds in locations around Bar Harbor. Eelgrass is a primary photosynthetic producer that acts as a nursery for a number of economically important species (mussels, clams, cod, etc) in sub-tidal zones. Without the eelgrass, these populations would decline. She has had great success in the past seven years. However, this morning she regrettably informed me that there was no more eelgrass in several of her restored areas. She has been monitoring the sites and, for whatever reason, it is not growing this year. What??? Destruction in Disneyland??? So what’s a teacher to do if there is no eelgrass? And what happened to it?
Obviously, Dr. Disney is also greatly concerned as her work for the last six years, and the grant that funds the research, all revolves around eelgrass. So onto Plan B. First a meeting with all the other members of her team (visiting researching teachers, Ted Taylor and Dr. Jen Adams, from Bangor High, student interns, fellow scientists, and volunteers). Next an opportunity for each person to talk about what they were going to do and what help they might need from the other team members. There’s worm research, mapping, infaunal collections, citizen scientists initiatives, and of course, trying to figure out what happened to the eelgrass. Assignments were handed out and Lukas, student intern, and I will be joining Dr. Disney tomorrow at 5:45 am for a trip to Hadley’s point to look at the area and harvest some of the few remaining grasses. (This does involve wearing a wetsuit which, I must confess, is an outfit that makes me incredibly happy that I don’t know anyone around here.) On Thursday, we’ll go back out with some volunteers from Bowdoin College and put out a few hundred grids to see if perhaps a nutrient deficit is what caused the die off. Ted Taylor from Bangor suggested perhaps a point source problem so on Friday morning, I may be kayaking along the shoreline looking for eelgrass . . . wow this is a job I could get us to doing!
After the meeting, teams broke up to start whatever work was necessary to get their week underway. I had the dubious task of finding 5 gallon fish tanks in Ellsworth that we could use for experiments – found 7 and ordered 5 more for pick up later this week. We also looked for space to place these tanks and found some outside the Neal building. While I was there, I had an opportunity to see research that is being done on Fundulus heteroclitus – the northern killifish. This really cool fish has eggs that can be out of the water for 14 days – be virtually dessicated – and have just a bit of water added to them – and they hatch. Not only is this just mind blowing, the eggs are gorgeous under the microscope!!
As the day comes to a close, I’m heading to bed early to be up and ready for the morning low tide. And while I may not have the opportunity to study eelgrass restoration, I am excited to begin to figure out what happened to it.