Island and coastal students are curious about kelp

Yvonne Thomas
Posted 2017-11-21

It’s been a very busy fall for kelp growing schools along the Maine Coast. From Downeast to Casco Bay, an increasing number of students and teachers are studying seaweed and deploying kelp lines – in coves, salt-water ponds, old lobster pounds and under piers. By working with local environmental education organizations and industry partners, these school-based waterfront innovators are giving us a glimpse of how kelp aquaculture will help diversify Maine’s fisheries in the future. 

Jack Sullivan / Island Institute

Some of the schools and organizations growing kelp along the coast.

One completely student-driven example is Kelp4Kids on Peaks Island. This after school project includes fall and spring sessions to coincide with the kelp growing season, which aligns well with both the traditional school calendar and the lobster off-season. The project is the brainchild of Baxter Academy senior Emma Christman, who was inspired by a similar after school project started on near by Long Island. Working with the Island Institute and Peaks Island Elementary School’s After School Academy, as well as industry and academic experts, Emma developed and taught the program which includes installing a kelp line below a dock on the island. She will monitor the kelp line throughout the winter and together with students from Peaks, will harvest the kelp in the spring.

Kelp4Kids students on Peaks Island watch as the kelp line is installed earlier this month.

Another island is taking a community approach to learning about kelp. Vinalhaven students in grades K-12 participated in kelp aquaculture activities, either during and after school, and there was recently a kelp-inspired potluck dinner held in the cafeteria. Many K-5 students brought their parents and friends to the community kelp night event, where attendance numbered in the 70s! Information on the newly formed kelp company, Vinalhaven Kelp Inc., was shared, and we heard about the various kelp projects happening in the middle and high school science classes. 

Community Kelp Night on Vinalhaven

​Community organizations including Vinalhaven Land Trust, Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership, Herring Gut Learning Center and the Island Institute all provide a variety curriculum support and technical expertise and the result is two kelp lines being installed. One is located right behind Main Street in Carver’s Pond, and the other is a short boat ride away in the waters off Hurricane Island. Looking ahead, a second potluck to celebrate the kelp harvest is in the works for the spring.  

A kelp-inspired potluck dinner on Vinalhaven

Kelp aquaculture is proving to be a highly engaging place-based learning topic for people of all ages. From ocean chemistry to economics to culinary arts, this super food is making its mark on the Maine coast. Kudos to all the waterfront innovators, both teachers and students, for leading the way.