Eager eyes and smiles could be found on every student’s face as Mt. Ararat High School’s marine science class took to the mud flats of Strawberry Creek in Harpswell on Monday, May 23. Included in the group of students were budding scientists, nature lovers, and prospective student clammers.
The field trip was part of a joint effort between the Harpswell Marine Resources Committee, the Massachusetts-based conservation organization Manomet, and Mt. Ararat educators to “bring students to the outdoors and encourage them to apply for student clamming licenses,” said Doug Ware, community learning coordinator and marine science teacher at Mt. Ararat.
The program gave students an opportunity to learn about marine life in the Gulf of Maine and career opportunities in marine science and the shellfish industry. “For a lot of students, I imagine this is their first time coming down to the coast,” Ware said.
Marissa McMahan, director of fisheries for Manomet, explains the differences between invasive and native crabs. (EMILY SWAN PHOTO)
Marissa McMahan works with a student to identify a crab. (EMILY SWAN PHOTO)
The students rotated through stations, the first being an intertidal survey of the green crab population. Green crabs are an invasive species and an enemy of shellfish harvesters, as they prey on clams.
Manomet Director of Fisheries Marissa McMahan and Research Technician Jessie Batchelder taught students how to identify native and invasive crabs. Students measured crabs and sorted them based on gender, color and size.
At another station, perhaps the fan favorite, students learned how to dig for clams. Robert Boyce Jr. and David Wilson, clammers and members of the Harpswell Marine Resources Committee, demonstrated digging techniques. It didn’t take long for every student to get their hands dirty — and often, despite their best efforts, to get stuck in the mud.
Students also learned how to measure shellfish and take water samples for testing. Clean water is crucial to the industry, as pollution can close hundreds of acres of flats.
Student Alex Whittingham was enthusiastic about digging. “I’ve loved nature my entire life — all woodland and ocean creatures,” Whittingham said. “I might be interested in applying for a student license to dig.”
Classmate Chriss Mann shared Whittingham’s excitement as he took to the flats. “I have some experience in digging, mostly with friends,” Mann said. “I’m excited to learn more though.”
Harpswell Harbor Master and Marine Resources Administrator Paul Plummer provided insight into the goals of the program.
“One goal was to entice some students to participate in the student shellfish commercial license program,” Plummer said. “We need more young blood in the industry to keep it going, and this would be a great part-time job for a student, as well as get them into the field, working on the water.”
As for students who don’t want to work as shellfish harvesters, both Plummer and Ware want to encourage them to consider marine science and biology as paths of study.
Ware said he hopes this will be the first of many programs designed “to bring students out, educate them about the environment and get them in touch with the outdoors.”
Emily Swan is a junior at Barnard College, Columbia University, where she is majoring in political science. She graduated from Brunswick High School in 2020.