Ask just about any Vinalhaven School student what they know about kelp, and you are likely to get an earful. The crowd of 50+ people who turned out for the spring Community Kelp Night in mid-May certainly did! The elementary, middle, and high school students have each studied kelp throughout the 2017-18 school year, both in science classes and after school through the K-5 Perspectives program. In addition to classroom based-lessons, these students have spent time at and on the water – collecting seaweed at low tide on Lane’s Island, growing and harvesting kelp in Carver’s Pond, and learning all aspects of kelp aquaculture and related topics on Hurricane Island. Some students even got the unique opportunity to process Vinalhaven-grown kelp at Ocean Approved, a kelp company in Saco, Maine.
While the school-based study of kelp was underway, a smaller group of students and community members was working to try to grow kelp in Carver’s Pond directly behind Vinalhaven’s Main Street. Last year, Vinalhaven students in the Eastern Maine Skippers Program had chosen to grow kelp as their project, and while they learned a lot about the process, not much kelp was actually grown. Yvonne Thomas from the Island Institute and Skippers teacher Bryan Feezor – along with two of the kelp students from last year, Jordan Radley and Henry Noyes – volunteered to give growing kelp another try. Community members Mark Jackson and Chris Radley helped out as well. The result was that, in spite of a couple of damaging storms and king tides, a harvestable amount of beautiful, clean kelp was grown.
Studying kelp with an emphasis on hands-on science was a priority for teachers Emily Cohn (middle school science) and Emma Baker (high school science), who with support from the Vinalhaven Land Trust, partnered with Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership (HICSL) on this project. Robin Chernow of HICSL visited the science classes each quarter, providing technical support and instruction for students who learned how to grow kelp from spores in saltwater aquarium tanks until it was ready for deployment in Penobscot Bay near Hurricane Island.
Middle school students maintained their tank for over a month to get the baby kelp ready for a fall field trip to Hurricane’s kelp line. During the field trip, they also learned about Hurricane’s scallop aquaculture efforts. Back at school, the HICSL lessons connected the kelp work to each grade’s science curriculum. Sixth graders explored biodiversity, population trends, and photosynthesis, while 7th and 8th graders examined climate change, ocean acidification, and industrial applications of kelp as food before coming up with their own kelp recipes.
High school chemistry students kept their kelp tank going all winter and designed several different experiments to understand the impacts of nutrient levels on kelp growth, the amount of light needed (baby kelp can get sunburned!), and kelp’s role in regulating pH and locally reducing ocean acidification. In the spring they returned to Hurricane to harvest kelp and collect data with UMaine/UNE researcher Gretchen Grebe, who is studying how kelp helps to clean or bioremediate water. The Vinalhaven students helped her collect and freeze some samples for work back at her lab.
Having the Spring Community Kelp Night as a way to celebrate the kelp harvest and showcase student work was a great culmination to a year of studying kelp. The event was similar to a kick-off Kelp Night that was held in the fall to build student and community interest and support for growing kelp in Vinalhaven waters. Students learned a great deal between the kick-off and the culminating events, and it was a special pleasure to see them share their knowledge at the Spring Kelp Night. Parent and community turnout to both events was great, and several people brought dishes made with kelp to the potluck dinner. For the partner organizations that helped support this work, it was an especially gratifying experience to work with so many different teachers and students across all the grade levels. The future of kelp on Vinalhaven looks (and tastes) very good.
See a collection of photos from the kelp project, including classroom and field work, harvesting a processing the kelp from Carver's Pond, and the Vinalhaven Community Kelp Night.
Editor's Note: This blog post was written in collaboration with with Robin Chernow, Science Education Manager at Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership.