Lobsters, clams, games and more at Down East Institute’s annual field day

Posted Aug. 28, 2010, at 5:34 p.m.
Tanks fill the interior of Down East Institute on Great Wass Island, where clams, oysters and lobsters are hatched and researched. A field day was held Saturday at the facility which included tours of the research center, touch tanks and events for children, clam shell flying contests, and tours around Western Bay on a working lobster boat. University of Maine at Machias Professor Brian Beal leads the institute, which provides key research for the lobster and clamming industries of Maine.  BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY SHARON KILEY MACK
BDN
Tanks fill the interior of Down East Institute on Great Wass Island, where clams, oysters and lobsters are hatched and researched. A field day was held Saturday at the facility which included tours of the research center, touch tanks and events for children, clam shell flying contests, and tours around Western Bay on a working lobster boat. University of Maine at Machias Professor Brian Beal leads the institute, which provides key research for the lobster and clamming industries of Maine. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY SHARON KILEY MACK
Tiny lobsters fit in the bowl of a plastic teaspoon as Brian Beal explained the research into container farms under way at Down East Institute at Great Wass Island.  BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY SHARON KILEY MACK
BDN
Tiny lobsters fit in the bowl of a plastic teaspoon as Brian Beal explained the research into container farms under way at Down East Institute at Great Wass Island. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY SHARON KILEY MACK
Jonesport-Beals lobsterman Dwight Carver notches the tail of a female lobster during an ocean outing Saturday at the Down East Institute's annual field day at Great Wass Island. Carver explained to the half dozen children on board the tour that notching the shell meant &quotThis lobster will be forever free," and explained how important that was to the future of the lobster industry. Carver protected the lobster because she had a misshapen shell and could not be sold. Carver's tours in Western Bay on his working lobster boat were part of many events at the field day, which included tours of the DEI research station. The facility studies lobsters, clams and oysters with an eye towards sustainability.  BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY SHARON KILEY MACK
BDN
Jonesport-Beals lobsterman Dwight Carver notches the tail of a female lobster during an ocean outing Saturday at the Down East Institute's annual field day at Great Wass Island. Carver explained to the half dozen children on board the tour that notching the shell meant "This lobster will be forever free," and explained how important that was to the future of the lobster industry. Carver protected the lobster because she had a misshapen shell and could not be sold. Carver's tours in Western Bay on his working lobster boat were part of many events at the field day, which included tours of the DEI research station. The facility studies lobsters, clams and oysters with an eye towards sustainability. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY SHARON KILEY MACK
University of Maine Professor Brian Beal raises seven different varieties of phytoplankton, used to feed juvenile lobsters, clams and oysters that are studied at the Down East Institute on Great Wass Island. Each color represents a different type of phytoplankton.   BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY SHARON KILEY MACK
BDN
University of Maine Professor Brian Beal raises seven different varieties of phytoplankton, used to feed juvenile lobsters, clams and oysters that are studied at the Down East Institute on Great Wass Island. Each color represents a different type of phytoplankton. BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY SHARON KILEY MACK

BEALS, Maine — Lobsterman Dwight Carver, his boat idling on Western Bay off Jonesport and Beals Island, hauled up a lobster trap from 60 feet below the salty surface.

“Ooo,” the group of children on the boat said in unison as the trap broke the surface.

“It’s full!” one shouted.

Pulling out his catch, Carver explained how to measure a lobster, tell its sex and band its claws. Each child had a turn at the wheel, a move that left some adults a bit dizzy because of the youngsters’ maneuvers.

The tour and lessons were part of the Down East Institute for Applied Marine Research’s annual field day on and around Great Wass Island on Saturday. The day also celebrated the completion of DEI’s new educational facility at Black Duck Cove in the town of Beals.

It was sea spray and touch tanks for hands-on learning as adults and children handled horseshoe crabs, lobsters, starfish and clams during the event.

Inside the research center, beakers, bottles and colored, bubbling tubes looked like they belonged in Dr. Frankenstein’s lab but turned out to be incubators for seven varieties of phytoplankton — food for sea clams and juvenile lobsters grown at the research center.

Science and fun were the order of the day at the institute, which specializes in coastal studies of sea clams, lobsters and snails.

Buoyed by a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to create a working waterfront classroom on Great Wass Island for Down East schoolchildren, the institute has a variety of research projects under way.

DEI has more than 2,000 feet of deep-water frontage and two working lobster pounds. It has converted the property’s former lobster tank building to a production and research shellfish hatchery and running seawater laboratory. The new education center was completed recently as an addition to the existing facility.

DEI Director Brian Beal of the University of Maine at Machias said one key study is looking at the feasibility of seeding European oysters into Down East clam flats.

“We are attempting to create a culture fishery in Down East Maine for this species,” Beal said Saturday. He said European oysters first were introduced in Maine in the late 1940s to offset heavy losses in the soft-shell clam industry.

He said the oysters hold promise for the area, and he is looking for fishermen and aquaculturists to help document the success of seedbeds.

Another research project includes the study of containment farming of lobsters.

“If you put a goldfish in a 5-gallon pail, it will stay pretty small,” Beal said. “But if you put it in a very large tank, you have a much bigger fish — a perch.”

Beal said DEI is studying what effect container size has on lobster development. He also is studying why Maine’s lobster population has increased by 140 percent in the past decade.

“If you were to ask five fishermen and five scientists why there are currently so many lobsters in Maine, you would get 10 different answers,” Beal said. “But for the future of this industry, we need to know these answers.”

Beal, a professor of marine ecology at UMM, also is partnered with Washington County Community College, University of Maine Sea Grant Program, the Down East Institute, Maine School Union 103 and the Moosabec Community School District to create a curriculum for coastal schools based on marine science education.

“The goal is to get students excited about careers in science, technology, engineering and math,” Beal said.

If the children attending Saturday’s field day were any indication, excitement is high.

The children marveled over an albino lobster, a blue lobster and a hatchling lobster so small it rested in the bowl of a teaspoon. Visitors learned to “fly” clamshells, found clams in a sandy pool and peered through microscopes at minuscule clams.

DEI conversion of a former lobster facility into a marine education center and classroom will allow delivery of teacher workshops and summer marine science institutes for youth, Beal said, as well as increase the scope of marine education offerings to UMM undergraduates.

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