Yesterday afternoon in the lab brought some interesting results from our rhizomes. There appeared to be three categories of rhizomes: first was the largest group that were black on the outside, somewhat mushy, and then had very distinct hollow centers; second was the group that were black on the outside, firm, and a jelly-like center; and third, was the smallest, yet most hopeful group, that were brown on the outside, firm, with a visible healthy phloem and xylem in the center. So is the eelgrass dead or just delayed in blooming? Is this a phase that all eelgrass goes through like a dormancy period? Am I on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride with all theses ups and downs? Armed with this new information, discussions throughout the afternoon brought about a revised plan – plan C.
Plan C is to catch Wednesday mornings very low tide at “the Bar” in downtown Bar Harbor where there is healthy eelgrass. At this location, we would harvest 400 plants which we would bring back to the lab. These plants will be used in an experiment to help determine what is going on at Hadley Point where the lack of eelgrass is alarming. We will put 100 plants on grids (10 grids each with 20 plants) and “staple”
the remaining plants directly into the sediments using biodegradable wooden staples. We’ll put half of the grids and stapled plants in at Hadley Point and the other half back at the Bar. If the healthy plants grow at the Bar and at Hadley Point then perhaps it was just a single season issue. (Last year was the warmest ocean temperatures ever recorded.) If the plants grow at the Bar but not Hadley then there is still a problem, perhaps a nutrient deficiency.
While we are at the Bar, Lukas and I will also harvested 72 small plants and sediments (mud) to transplant into the fish tanks that I bought yesterday and we will also harvest sediments from Hadley Point. This experiment has 6 tanks with Bar sediments and 6 with Hadley Point sediments planted with six eelgrass plants. Lukas will monitor the growth of the plants as a quantitative approach to the health of the eelgrass.
Lukas will also collect thirty rhizomes from the healthy beds to compare with the rhizomes we looked at earlier to establish any substantial difference between the two locations. With all of this on the plate for tomorrow, the remainder of the afternoon was a buzz with activity preparing for plan C
Day three in Disneyland seems, once again, more like a vacation then actual work. At 6:00 am, Erika and Theresa from Bowdoin College join Lukas and I at the Hegner Lab for the last minute details for the harvest. Jane arrives and we grab all of the containers and equipment needed, assign personnel to vehicles, and hit the road.
Arrival at the Bar is heaven. The Bar is a sandbar that connects downtown to an island during low tide. People walk their dogs and run along this beautiful area. The seafloor is littered with hundreds of thousands of crushed shells and sea life flourishes. Sea gulls are picking up urchins and smashing then on rocks, balls of baby eels are swimming, and strange looking pout fish are found amongst the eelgrass and kelp.
We first visit the left of the bar where the eelgrass is relatively short. We find that a number of the blades are flowering – preparing to drop seed. To the right of the bar is the longer blades of eelgrass – not many flowering yet – where the majority of the harvesting will be done. Since so many hands are involved it doesn’t take too long for 20 bundles of 20 to be collected. The other samples needed are also soon gathered and stored in the vehicles.
Upon our return to the lab, the samples are stored in the previously filled salt water tank, suits and boots are rinsed and soaked, sediments are placed in the fish tanks, and all other collections are moved to their proper place for closer inspection at a later time.
At this time, I switch gears to water quality monitoring. MDIBL is responsible for a number of other programs, one most of us are familiar with is Maine Healthy Beaches. This monitoring program looks at several locations around the Island and tests for a number of items and, particularly, for bacteria. If the bacteria exceeds the EPA’s (Environmental Protection Agency) standard, the beach may be posted with a warning of potential contamination or totally closed for any and all water contact. Trillium, a gifted home-schooled volunteer, takes me through the testing process. It has been a while since I have been in a lab this sophisticated and some of the new equipment is amazing. I especially enjoy the heat sealing machine that takes the samples and turns them into the coolest little packets
Shortly after this session, I have the opportunity to do Phytoplankton monitoring with Hannah, another brilliant young intern. Since we are nearing high tide, we head to town to the local dock. At the dock, we check ocean and air temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, nitrogen, and also gather phytoplankton. Hannah has volunteers that do similar test with her at other points on the island and she monitors and documents all of the findings.
Returning to the lab brings us back into the midst of planning for tomorrow’s Restoration Project. While we harvested all of the material today, tomorrow we must get it all back in the water. Even more people join the fun – George who will drive the boat, Trillium, Ben, Asa, and several other volunteers.
As I head to bed, my takeaways from the day are threefold:
one – while lab work can be monotonous in the repeating of the same tests, it rarely is boring with all that goes on.
two – these essential programs for the State of Maine are at the mercy of gracious and kindhearted volunteers who truly care about our environment.
three – While this location often makes you think you are vacationing, I am really tired I won’t need Tinkerbell to sing me to sleep tonight.