Darling Marine Center hosts SEA Fellows Symposium

WALPOLE, Maine — Students, researchers, fishermen, aquaculture entrepreneurs, and other marine professionals gathered at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center (DMC) last month for the 2nd annual SEA Fellows Summer Science Symposium.

Undergraduate students from across Maine shared their research on topics ranging from how to increase lobster shell strength to new methods for farming scallops and kelp. Many were directly related to questions posed by the commercial fishing and shellfish farming industries. In some cases, industry members were co-authors on the research. Abstracts of all 20 student-led projects are posted on the DMC’s website.

Cassandra Leeman, who grew up just miles from the DMC in Bristol, shared work she conducted with the Sustainable Ecological Aquaculture Network (SEANET), the statewide sustainable aquaculture collaborative funded by the US National Science Foundation. As a DMC-based intern, she was part of a team of students and faculty with backgrounds in ecology, engineering and many other fields.

Cassie studied how the health of Maine rivers, particularly one feeding into Casco Bay, compares with coastal waters farther south. She also helped to maintain the SEANET buoys that deliver real-time data on the coastal waters to the shellfish farmers and fishermen who work the Damariscotta River Estuary.

“SEA Fellows celebrates the science that emerges when scientists listen to the questions that community members and marine industry professionals are asking,” said Heather Leslie, director of the Darling Marine Center and co-founder of the program. “Our goal is to encourage more researchers and students to do science in this mode, and to give students opportunities to practice communicating their findings and why they matter.”

A select set of SEA Fellows had the opportunity to practice their communication skills in a workshop sponsored by SEANET earlier in the day. Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine received a five year, $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation to establish SEANET and to build a network of interdisciplinary researchers along the coast of Maine to help advance sustainable ecological aquaculture and support marine STEM sciences in Maine’s K-12 curricula. 

“Having to explain my science in 30 seconds was really hard, and really valuable,” reflected Melissa Britsch, a UMaine intern who worked with DMC and Maine Sea Grant scientists investigating the best way to catch baby scallops bound for aquaculture. Melissa is continuing the work she began as a SEA Fellow at the DMC into the fall.

“It was great to meet other students working in a similar way, from across the state,” remarked Rory Morgan, a rising senior and SEA Fellow at University of Maine at Machias (UMM) who was based at the Downeast Institute this summer. “When I set up my poster, I already knew a lot about the other students’ projects, thanks to the workshop and conversations we had earlier in the day.”   

More than 70 students, community members, and marine professionals participated in the symposium. The students hailed from institutions throughout the state, including UMaine, UMM, and Colby College. After the poster session, participants had the opportunity to tour the DMC shellfish hatchery, business incubation facilities and waterfront and learn more about the ongoing industry-research collaborations underway at the DMC.

SEA (Science for Economic Impact and Application) Fellows is an undergraduate research and engagement training program developed by UMaine and UMM. The program supports undergraduate research related to Maine’s marine economy, as well as the ecosystems and coastal communities that support it. It is funded by a National Science Foundation award to Maine EPSCoR at UMaine, the  University of Maine System Research Reinvestment Fund, and in-kind support from the DMC and the Downeast Institute.

Learn more about the SEA Fellows Program and read the abstracts of all 20 student-led projects at https://dmc.umaine.edu/2017-symposium/.

Founded in 1965, the Darling Marine Center is the University of Maine’s marine laboratory. Its mission is to connect people to the ocean. The center’s researchers, staff and students work alongside fishermen, aquaculture entrepreneurs, marine industry professionals, and other members of the community, in Maine and around the world. More information is available at dmc.umaine.edu.