VINALHAVEN — Late in September, 41 students from Mount Desert Island and five other coastal and island high schools (Deer Isle-Stonington, George Stevens Academy, Vinalhaven, North Haven and Narraguagus) gathered on Hurricane Island in Penobscot Bay to kick-off the second year of the Eastern Maine Skippers Program (EMSP).
Their collaborative, yearlong project sought to address the question, “How can the impact of the green crab population be controlled in a way that conserves the marine ecosystem and encourages new industry?”
The day-and-a-half program was organized and hosted by the Hurricane Island Foundation with additional staff support from Penobscot East Resource Center and the Maine Department of Marine Resources. The event introduced students to the invasive green crab issue in Maine and featured hands-on activities which ranged from learning about field sampling techniques to developing a marketable product made from green crabs to discussing elements underlying effective group work and communication.
“This event provides the students with an opportunity to connect in-person, fostering a generation of fishermen who know how to collaborate and communicate with each other despite being from different homeports,” said Alice Anderson, Hurricane Island science educator.
Before beginning field work, students worked with Anderson; Noah Oppenheim, a graduate student at the University of Maine School of Marine Sciences; Carla Guenther, lead scientist at Penobscot East Resource Center; and Les White from the Maine Department of Marine Resources to identify different sampling techniques that could be used in assessing green crab abundance in the intertidal zone. After much deliberation and discussion, each group of students generated a scientific question about green crabs and identified an appropriate sampling method to test their question during low tide on Monday morning. After collecting data in the intertidal zone, students reflected on the process and discussed the pros and cons of their approach, analyzed data collected and presented their findings to the larger group.
“I liked that we could go into the field and gather data for a project we designed instead of using somebody else’s data from a textbook. Doing hands-on learning makes you want to do the work more,” said Elliott Nevells, a 9th grade student at Deer Isle-Stonington High School and EMSP participant.
Students worked with peers from other schools to create an edible dish from green crabs. This activity provided students the opportunity to explore the potential for developing marketable products made from green crabs. Prior to the taste-testing contest, each group delivered a pitch describing their product, how it was made, who they were marketing it to and the asking price. A panel of judges made up of teachers voted on their favorite dish. The Hurricane Island Chowder dish won “Best Taste,” while the Green Crab Mac & Cheese dish won “Best Pitch” and the Fried Green Crab & Dip was awarded “Most Creative Dish.”
Throughout the remainder of the school year, the students will continue their investigation of green crabs in their own schools. The green crab project will provide students the opportunity to learn and practice important skills such as active citizenship, public speaking, interpreting and using data, and applied science and engineering that will prepare them for modern fishing careers as well as post-secondary education. The project has further application beyond their high school educations, however, as students are conducting real-world research that researchers and regulators can use as they seek to sustain the fisheries component of the coastal economy, which is critical to Down East communities.
Participating students remain in their schools and collaborate in the program via technology-based “anytime, anywhere” learning. Students also meet in person several times per year to participate in events such as the kick-off event hosted by the Hurricane Island Foundation.