Cobscook Journey: A Teacher’s Perspective

Saturday, July 19th

I arrived at Friedman Field Station this morning, and have been working non-stop since. Tom and I spent much of the weekend preparing for the team of NaGISA scientists to arrive Sunday night for their three-day assignment sampling the tidal biodiversity at Birch Island. At this time I know little of what to expect, but I am excited and anxious for the days ahead.

Sunday, July 20th
Lab Preparations

FFS is an interesting place, and I am getting pretty familiar with the lab, where the team will be sorting the collected samples. I am prepared for long days, and to spend a lot of our time here.

The team has arrived, and there was still much work to be done in preparation for tomorrow’s sampling. There is so much equipment involved! We spent much of the evening briefing the protocol we will be following. It makes sense right now, and of course, I want to see it carried out. I have even been given an assignment – to read the GPS and record the coordinates of the different sample locations at the site. The NaGISA team has been very welcoming of me as a volunteer on this project, and I look forward to working with them in the days ahead.

All of this work will be filmed by Rick, a videographer, who’s making a documentary for the Census of Marine Life. The amount of equipment he has is amazing – he even has a camera that he will take underwater! I think it’s so cool that some of their work will be performed by divers. It seems challenging enough just working on land to me! I wonder what they will see down there.

Monday, July 21st
Sampling

This morning, we took a small boat to Birch Island, where we were greeted by a bald eagle, who continued to serenade us throughout the day with her call. I joined the inter-tidal team for mid and high tide sampling. The weather chose not to cooperate this morning, delaying our low tide work, but we had a lot to do regardless.

I’m not used to walking around in rubber boots on slippery, seaweed covered rocks, but today definitely wasn’t the day to admit that, as the team was focused and on-task as soon as we got off the boat. I soon realized that I would be responsible for much more than just listing the coordinates on the GPS.

First, Rebecca and I laid the transect line, which would tell us where to place the quadrats. If walking around in rubber boots on highly slippery rocks wasn’t challenging in it’s own right, add in another dimension of walking around in rubber boots on highly slippery rocks, on a slope leading toward really cold water, with a very large measuring tape in hand. That was just the beginning. Pre-determined marks on the tape dictated where the quadrats should be placed, and then the fun work began. As Rebecca and Lou carefully sorted through the sea life inside the quadrat, I recorded all the data.

Sorting in the lab

It was great to actually see this work in action, but a little overwhelming at the same time. My brain couldn’t possibly keep up with all the new information I was learning, but it was fun trying, and over time, I felt like I was making a contribution to this team’s work.

We spent the late afternoon, and well into the evening, back at the lab with our collections. Each sample had to be sorted and recorded, and some preserved for the team to take back with them to Canada. I have a newfound admiration for the amount of work involved in such a project, and the teamwork displayed both in the field and back at the lab by these scientists is highly evident.

Tuesday, July 22nd

Tidal diversity

Without the fog holding us back, the inter-tidal crew was able to head back out for our low tide sampling. Again, the island’s resident eagle was there to greet us, only it took some time to earn her trust, as she circled overhead and cried out her, “Hey, this is my island – get off now!” call.

This morning’s sampling was great fun! We rushed against time and tide, and scrambled to get all five sample sites completed before the water took back the shore. Again, I happily took the responsibility of writing data, while Rebecca called out each quadrat’s 1 meter inhabitants. I couldn’t believe the diversity! There were so many more things to look at today, and I couldn’t help but want to stop and hold each little starfish and green crab we came across, but of course, the tide had other plans.

While waiting for our return trip, Rebecca and Lou patiently continued to share their expertise and helped me continue exploring the life at the quickly fading low tide zone. A trip to the beach will be so much more to me now than ever before. I only hope I can hold on to the new things I have learned here. The thought of bringing this information and experience into my classroom excites me greatly.

In the lab

The lab was a busy place this afternoon. We worked on our samples for hours. Today, Amanda and I worked with the sieve, in order to collect meiofauna. I only wish I could have seen the tiny critters housed in the silt. It’s amazing to think that an entire ecosystem can exist there. Carefully sorting through samples was challenging work, but really intriguing. It was always a bonus when my sample had interesting critters to see.

Even though the team has already put over a dozen hours in the lab, our work is not yet complete, and I am certain tomorrow will be a busy day. I am really enjoying watching how the team works together, and everyone pitches in, regardless of how tired or busy they may be at that moment. Although everyone is working on different tasks, no one loses sight of the collective goal, and it’s a really wonderful thing to be a part of – I am having a great time, and hope I am making a positive contribution here.

Wednesday, July 23rd
Group shot

The lab bustled with activity all morning in an effort to get all the work completed before the afternoon pick-up of the team’s last remaining supplies and of course, the samples. Each sample, carefully preserved, will make it’s way to identification. I wish I could see all the tiny critters that will turn up in the collections of silt and rocks and plants.

It was bittersweet to see the team depart today. Certainly, I am tired; the project has challenged me both physically and mentally. However, I have a newfound thirst. I want to see more and continue learning about the life that I have only just met.

My experience here has truly caused me to rethink my own understanding of the term ‘biodiversity.’ When I teach my sixth graders about biodiversity, I hope to open their eyes far beyond the familiarity of backbones, fur, feathers or fins. I feel perhaps, I too, as their teacher, can be more open now to step outside my own comfort zone and together with my students examine biodiversity in a whole new way.

It was a privilege for me to be here, and to be a part of something this important. Many teachers seldom have the opportunity to practice and experience their content outside the classroom. Through working with this project, I can offer my students a first-hand picture into real life application of science, thus, making science more “real” to them.

This is one adventure I couldn’t possibly forget.

Patricia M. DeMaria
6th Grade Science
Saco Middle School