Intermediate Marine Biologist 2019

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Our Intermediate Marine Biologist program took place on July 6th-7th at the Morton Centre on Heckmans Island. We started off our morning with a knot-tying workshop down on the beach – because every marine biologist should know a few! Our participants took the simple bowline knot to the next level, challenging themselves to tie it with their eyes closed and behind their backs (safe to say they’re bowline experts now). We then left the beach and headed back up to the Centre, where we got to learn in a hands-on way about the devastation that invasive species cause through a dissection of invasive chain pickerel. Our participants worked with Coastal Action Foundation Biologist Shawn to make their way through the pickerel anatomy, focusing on the stomach contents of these fish to learn about what they’d eaten, and how that might disrupt an ecosystem.

In the afternoon, our group went back down to the beach to discuss how marine biologists survey different habitats. Surely we could all enter the water, equipped with masks and snorkels, to try to see what marine life exists in the area. But realistically, what would we find after having created a rock concert underwater? Probably not much. Instead, we introduced the idea of BRUVs, or Baited Remote Underwater Video systems. BRUVs are typically plastic and metal structures built with a bait crate and underwater camera attached that we deploy into an area and then leave for several hours, hopefully causing minimal disturbance to the area. After a few hours, you fetch the structure, download the video footage, and watch what the bait crate attracted. We knew that having our participants build BRUV structures from scratch would be an excellent opportunity for them to practice their team work and problem-solving skills, all the while learning about engineering and marine science. So we split up into two teams, and spent the next 2 hours refining the design, measuring and cutting pieces of PVC piping, and assembling the structure. Our teams deployed their BRUVs in different areas of the shallow-water habitat in the Heckmans Island Bay, and we returned up to the Centre to let our BRUVs record.

After dinner, our teams returned to the beach and brave participant Emily went back in the chilly water to retrieve the structures. We had also set a fish trap earlier, and spent some time learning about the variety of shrimp that we’d caught in it. We had a bonfire to close out our fantastic first day, and settled into our tents for the night.

The following morning, we were up early to drive in to Lunenburg and catch our private whale watching tour with Lunenburg Whale Watching. We enjoyed two hours of gorgeous and calm waters while we searched the sea for whales, instead stumbling upon a grouping of over two dozen curious Harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) and Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus). Sadly, we weren’t successful in seeing any whales, and were told by the boat’s Captain and Guide that ever since the arrival of invasive Green crabs (Carcinus maenus) a few years back, there have been fewer whales in the area. Could this be an example of an ecological cascade as the green crabs ate the seagrass that the whales’ food depended upon? Potentially. While we were disappointed to not get to see any whales, this turned into an excellent learning experience for our participants about the fragility of habitats we take for granted, the devastation that invasive species can cause, and the importance of marine conservation.

To close out our program, we headed back to the Centre, packed up our belongings, and worked in teams to summarize our findings from the activities we’d done over the past day and a half. Our participants created posters, collected props, and highlighted BRUV footage clips that they then shared with their parents upon arrival, turning our program into a learning opportunity for their families as well.

This program would not have been possible without the support of our volunteers. First off, thank you to our awesome group of girls for your enthusiasm and curious minds! To our volunteers Shawn Feener (Coastal Action Foundation) and Donna Young, we’re so thankful for your help! Our extended thanks also go to the Morton Centre, Coastal Action Foundation, Acadia University, Lunenburg Whale Watching, and Jerry Lockett from Seahorse Productions.

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This program will be offered next in July of 2020.

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