MACHIAS, Maine — When Dr. Brian Beal was a high school student in Jonesport, he could look out his classroom window at Moosabec Reach, the channel that separates Jonesport from Beals Island.
“We never discussed it, never visited it, never studied it,” Beal said Monday.
Beal is now a professor of marine ecology at the University of Maine at Machias, and — with the help of a $600,000 grant he just obtained from the National Science Foundation — he hopes to build a coastal studies curriculum for Down East students.
“The goal is to make the study of science, technology, engineering and mathematics real,” he said, “and encourage students to enter those fields of study.”
The program will be centered at the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research on Great Wass Island. UMM is partnered in the effort with Washington County Community College, University of Maine Sea Grant Program, the Downeast Institute, Maine School Union 103 and the Moosabec Community School District.
The grant will allow DEI to build a 1,200-square-foot state-of-the-art marine education center and classroom at its Black Duck Cove location where it will deliver teacher workshops and summer marine science institutes for youth, as well as increase the scope of marine education offerings to UMM undergraduates.
David Munson, the new full-time director, started work Monday at the center and will coordinate much of the training and other activities.
Beal explained that the NSF grant will allow the team members to work together to create a place-based and inquiry-based curriculum focused on the marine environment along the coast.
“We can have workshops for teachers, field projects with classrooms of students,” he said. “We are very, very excited, and we hope that excitement gets the kids excited about science. The center is 100 feet from the ocean. We could be in midlecture about, say, worms, and can tell the kids, ‘Hold on. Let’s go get one.’”
The center also can provide state-of-the-art space for scientists from around the world, Beal said, which could provide UMM students with an exposure to projects and instructors they otherwise would not have encountered.
Beal said the space also could be home to collaborative projects with local fishermen. The center includes two 2-acre impoundments that can be further used by fishermen.
“Fishermen have a ton of ideas about products, processes and even ways of harvesting,” he said.
Beal said the Great Wass Island facility previously had focused on sea clams, but the goal is now to diversify and expand.
“Our vision now is to develop and create the easternmost marine lab and research center in the U.S.,” said Beal. “This will open up new educational and economic opportunities for the people of Down East Maine.”