Researchers Observe the Bizarre Sexual Behavior of Shipworms for the First Time

One afternoon, a researcher walked into his lab at Northeastern’s Marine Science Center and saw something shocking: A competitive sexual frenzy was happening right before his eyes, with individuals wrestling and sparring for dominance. The participants? A cluster of shipworms—marking the first time this unusual sexual behavior has been observed and documented.

Shipworms are fleshy, worm-like mollusks that use their shells to carve into unprotected logs, driftwood, docks, and ships and make themselves at home. Once burrowed, the wood-eating clams stay put, slowly eating through their own habitats (and causing billions of dollars of damage to wooden structures in the oceans).

Shipworms have two snorkel-like siphons that are used to bring water in and expel waste. These siphons are the only part of the clam that protrudes from its wooden home.

But, as it turns out, that’s not all those siphons are good for.

Read the full story here

Understanding Nitrogen’s Impact on Coastal Zones

On the cover of this month’s issue of BioScience, the tranquil scene of an evening in the tidal marsh belies the complex biological interplay of nutrients and organisms found within. The impacts and mechanisms of nutrient enrichment in this coastal zone, particularly of nitrogen introduced by human activity, are well documented in literature — but a new study in December’s BioScience suggests that understanding the forms of nitrogen in the system is a missing piece of the coastal management puzzle.

The study, led by Dr. Jennifer Bowen, Associate Professor and Associate Chair of the Northeastern’s Marine and Environmental Sciences Department, synthesizes a decade of research from her team and collaborators, focused on understanding human impacts on the structure and function of salt marsh systems. Dr. Bowen has long used the living labs of the Boston area coasts to examine how urban ecosystems and microbial communities influence biogeochemical cycling. Her latest work examines nitrogen forms and flows in the TIDE project, a long-term nutrient enrichment experiment led by co-author Linda Deegan of the Woodwell Climate Research Center that is based at the NSF supported Plum Island Long-Term Ecological Research site in northern Massachusetts. Co-author Anne Giblin of the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, is lead principal investigator of the Plum Island research site. The research team also includes Anna Murphy, a postdoc in Bowen’s lab at the Marine Science Center, as well as Hillary Sullivan of the Woodwell Climate Research Center, Ashley Bulseco, a former PhD student of Bowen’s and currently a professor at Eckerd College, Thomas Mozdzer of Bryn Mawr College, and James Nelson of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. It was co-author David Johnson of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science who captured the journal’s cover photo, noting the clouds rolling in over the confluence of two branches of West Creek at Plum Island during early evening data collection one summer.  

Urbanization, industry, and large scale food production have resulted in steady and increasing influxes of excess reactive nitrogen [from man-made systems]to the coasts, causing eutrophication and damage to coastal habitats. By taking up some of this nitrogen, wetlands serve a critical role in reducing these impacts. But Bowen et al. present analyses demonstrating that the impacts of nitrogen input cannot be assessed unilaterally; rather, there are varied impacts of each specific form of nitrogen. Some forms of nitrogen relieved nutrient limitation and increased primary production in the marsh, whereas others supported higher rates of organic decomposition and muted the rates of primary production. The study argues that both the form and quantity of nitrogen influx to the coasts, and how these different forms of nitrogen mediate the balance between marsh carbon storage and loss, will be crucial for managing coastal wetlands as sea levels continue to rise. 

“Understanding how salt marsh ecosystems will respond to global change drivers such as nutrient enrichment and sea level rise requires expertise across a range of disciplines,” Bowen said. “Our team includes biogeochemists, microbial ecologists, and people specializing in plants, invertebrates, and fisheries species that all shed light on different aspects of the whole ecosystem response to these disturbances. This study underscores the importance of the long-term research investment by the National Science Foundation, who funded this work, and in the convergence of researchers from across fields to address questions with important implications for the management of critical coastal resources.”

Read the paper here.

Coastal photo by Dr. David Johnson, @DavidSamJohnson

Two Northeastern Leaders Receive Lifetime Fellowships for Exceptional Contributions to Their Fields

Two Northeastern leaders recently received fellowship awards with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a lifetime honor for their exceptional contributions to their fields.

Carla Brodley, dean of the Khoury College of Computer Sciences at Northeastern, and founding executive director of the Center for Inclusive Computing, was chosen for her outstanding national service towards diversifying computing, combined with broadly impactful research in the field of machine learning.

Geoffrey Trussell, chair of the marine and environmental sciences department and director of the Marine Science Center, was selected for his research combining ecology and evolution to understand the functional role of species in ecological communities.

Trussell and Brodley are not the first members of the Northeastern community to receive this fellowship. They join the ranks of university president Joseph E. Aoun, provost and senior vice president David Madigan, university distinguished professor of psychology Lisa Feldman Barrett, and university distinguished professor of biology Kim Lewis, to name a few.

Read the rest of this story here

Cuttlefish and Co-ops: A Conversation with Marine Biology Major Gwendolyn McManus

Marine Biology student Gwendolyn McManus is co-author of a new paper in Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology examining behaviors of the Flamboyant Cuttlefish.

She chatted with our team recently about her work as a co-op at Marine Biological Laboratory that led to the publication, and her current projects.

What drew you to MBL’s Hanlon Lab for your co-op?

I chose the Hanlon lab because they studied cuttlefish camouflage, which I thought sounded interesting, but also because the job involved animal care, and because there was a possibility I could do some scientific illustration work, which is one of my hobbies. I did end up creating the illustrations that are featured in the paper, which was such a cool experience!

Since the lab studies primarily European cuttlefish (which aren’t found in the Americas), my co-op was much more lab-based than field-based. I did, however, go to the beach every week or two and spend a few hours shaking seaweed into plastic tubs to collect gammarid amphipods that we used to feed our youngest cuttlefish!

What was your favorite part of the work?

My favorite part of the work was getting to interact with the cuttlefish day-to-day. Our animals were very aware of the fact that humans = food, so they liked to come up to the surface when you approached and raise their eyes above the water just to see what was going on. All of them had different personalities and tendencies as well! By the end of my co-op, I got good at telling them apart, even in tanks with 3-4 identical animals.

What are you up to now, and what’s next?

I worked in the Hughes Lab at the Marine Science Center during my Spring 2020 co-op, and transitioned to virtual work after COVID.  I’m currently collaborating on a project to develop a video game that will teach students about the ecology of seagrass beds.  We’ve got a long way to go on the project, but it’s fun work!

I’m hoping to get my master’s degree with the Three Seas Program in 2021-22, and I haven’t decided exactly what to do after that. I really enjoy the intersection between science and art, so I can see myself ending up in research, conservation, or educational/awareness work of some kind.


Work Referenced:

Roger T. Hanlon, Gwendolyn McManus. Flamboyant cuttlefish behavior: Camouflage tactics and complex colorful reproductive behavior assessed during field studies at Lembeh Strait, IndonesiaJournal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 2020; 529: 151397 DOI: 10.1016/j.jembe.2020.151397


Mapping Black Mangroves Along the Gulf: MSC Researchers Receive Grant to Grow Coastal Resilience

The black mangrove, Avicennia germinans, is the most abundant of the three mangrove species found along the Gulf coast, and its range is expanding.  Marine Science Center researchers Randall Hughes and Steven Scyphers have just been awarded a grant to explore the impacts of this expansion on the region’s ecosystem and communities.

Avicennia germinans has several clever adaptations to ensure success in the unforgiving coastal environment; it is the most cold-tolerant of the region’s mangroves, it can take up saltwater and expel the salt through its leaves, and can grow pneumatophores, roots that rise up out of the soggy mud and seawater like snorkels to provide air to the tree.  This resiliency also means mangroves are displacing salt marshes along coastlines in the Gulf of Mexico, which can have significant impacts on communities dependent on marshes for coastal protection and habitat health.

Drs. Hughes and Scyphers have begun research to examine range expansion of the black mangrove in the northern Gulf of Mexico from Cedar Key, Florida to Port Aransas, Texas, supported by a 697K grant from the Gulf Research Program (GRP) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  This was one of 6 projects awarded by the GRP this year, $5.3 million in total, to enhance understanding of gulf ecosystems.

The Marine Science Center researchers are teaming up with Dr. Christine Shepard, Director of Science at The Nature Conservancy, Gulf of Mexico and Dr. Michael Osland, Research Ecologist at the USGS Wetland and Aquatic Research Center, to use coupled natural-human systems approaches to study the black mangrove.

The project will examine the current and future geographic distribution and associated ecosystem functions of black mangroves, and how these are impacted by the social and policy landscape in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Existing data on the black mangrove’s distribution and ecosystem function, as well as analysis of the current attitudes, beliefs and decisions  of stakeholders in the region, will inform projections of the future of this critical species and its place in the local environment.

The researchers ultimately hope to connect this valuable ecological and social data with enhanced Coastal Resilience decision support tools, including a Mangrove Explorer interactive app to help determine the communities most at risk due to these ecosystem changes.

Learn more about the Gulf Research Program Awards.

‘To Benefit the Earth and Those Upon It.’ Announcing the 2020 Muckenhoupt Scholarship Winners.

Congratulations to Allison Noble and Haley Bayne, this year’s recipients of the Dr. Carl Muckenhoupt Scholarship!

The Muckenhoupt Scholarship is awarded each year to Northeastern undergraduate students who will use their training in science “to benefit the environment of the earth and those upon it.” The 2020 recipients were chosen from an impressive pool of academically exceptional and environmentally inclined students.

Allison Noble (’21), Marine Biology

Allison Noble (2021) is a Marine Biology student who has worked on several projects with the Marine Science Center, including research internships in the Hughes Lab and the Kimbro Lab.

Noble says she has most appreciated the opportunities to do field work in a diverse array of different ecosystems, especially the oyster reefs in both Florida and Rhode Island. Her work studying stony coral tissue loss disease was featured in a news feature earlier this year.

Noble’s latest project, in collaboration with Jeriyla Kamau-Weng, another Northeastern student, is development of the Marine and Environmental Sciences Peer Mentoring program. The program — the first of its kind in the College of Science — will be launched in the fall and already has over sixty participating students!

This summer, Noble volunteered at the Trevor Zoo in Millbrook, NY for the third year in a row, and participated in a virtual internship with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researching soundscapes in areas with varying levels of habitat degradation at the Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Her sound ecology work will continue this Fall with a co-op at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution researching sensory and sound ecology on coral reefs.

Allison Noble in Bocas Del Toro. Photo by Tim Briggs


Hayley Bayne (’20), Environmental Science

Haley Bayne (2020) is an Environmental Science student with interests in sustainability, ecology, and science communication.

She has enthusiastically seized opportunities for study and field research abroad during her undergraduate degree. One of her favorite experiences was a Dialogue course in Iceland, where she explored local geology and was inspired to consider ways that sustainable energy practices in place in that country could be and applied in the United States.

Bayne also worked in the Rosengaus Lab studying antifungal mechanisms in termites, where she honed her research skills, mentored younger students, and produced a research paper which will be published later this Fall.

Last year, she was invited to attend a research conference in the Netherlands, where she was able to attend lectures as well as network with researchers at the top of their fields. Bayne is currently taking virtual classes at Northeastern in addition to exploring new interests and developing her skills in science communication and lab research.

Congratulations to both of these scholars on receiving the 2020 Muckenhoupt Scholarship and for all of their exciting research! With co-op and research experiences throughout their time at Northeastern, these students With co-op and research experiences throughout their time at Northeastern, Bayne and Noble are well prepared to make a positive impact with their future work.


Hayley Bayne in Iceland. Photo courtesy of Hayley Bayne.


They’re Planning to Build a New Space Station… at the Bottom of the Ocean

When we wanted to study space, we built the International Space Station—a place where astronauts could live, work, and conduct long-term experiments without having to return to Earth.

What if we had something similar on the bottom of the ocean?

Fabien Cousteau, a renowned aquanaut, environmentalist, and documentary filmmaker (and grandson of Jacques-Yves Cousteau), has been envisioning exactly that. And Northeastern is helping to make it a reality.

The rest of this story can be read here

Women in Science: Water Stewards

In case you missed it, here is  part one and part two of our series.

Building Knowledge and Pathways to Positive Change

Women make up less than a third of the global research population, but scientists at Northeastern University’s Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences are driving the change in that statistic through their innovative, successful research and their contributions to a thriving STEM pipeline for young women and future researchers.  This Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting faculty who are advancing scientific knowledge and removing barriers for the next generation of women in STEM.

How are humans impacting the waterways we depend upon, and how can we ameliorate these impacts?

Featuring Dr. Loretta Fernandez

June 27, 2014- Northeastern assistant professor Loretta Fernandez’ water quality samplers are deceptively simple: they’re providing powerful data about the contamination levels of polluted waterways.

Dr. Loretta Fernandez is working to answer those questions and communicate
critical information to the stakeholders and stewards of our shared waterways. Her work
utilizes environmental organic chemistry to pioneer passive sampling methods for organic
contaminants in water and sediment, as well as monitor the transport, transformation, and
biological exchange of organic contaminants in our environment. Dr. Fernandez recently
developed a straightforward method for determining the concentration of contaminants most
likely to end up in the tissues of organisms living in polluted waterways, providing crucial
pollutant data to the EPA and other researchers. She is currently collaborating with the Munoz
Lab at the Marine Science Center to examine industrial contaminant mobility across the land
sea interface; these contaminants are detrimental to human and ecosystem health, and are
mobilized by geomorphic and biochemical processes for decades. Fernandez and her
collaborators are examining the stability of these compounds in floodplains and the coastal
ocean at several locations across New England and the Atlantic Coastal Plain.

Dr. Fernandez has been an active part of connecting environmental science with students and
with the local community. She has presented hands-on water quality activities at the Marine
Science Center Open Houses, and has been a mentor for young women at various science
career stages. Recent undergraduate research assistants in her lab have gone on to pursue
graduate research at Harvard, Yale, MIT, Colorado School of Mines, and Univ. of California
Santa Cruz. Creating pathways to success for young researchers is one of the ways Dr.
Fernandez is helping ensure that the environmental systems around us have scientific sentinels
into the future. Dr. Fernandez recently turned her lab’s expertise in environmental pollutants
into an innovative solution for testing facemask effectiveness against the COVID-19 virus,
working with Dr. Amy Mueller and a team of engineering students to modify their software to
assess particle movement through the masks, and establish the best materials for protecting
people against an airborne virus.

How can we measure, characterize and understand the huge and heterogeneous system of our earth?

Featuring Dr. Amy Mueller

Dr. Amy Mueller works to tackle these complexities by enabling critical
environmental measurements of the water in natural systems around us and in the built
systems we use each day, and enabling optimization of infrastructure like stormwater sewers
and wastewater treatment plants.  Dr. Mueller’s Environmental Sensors Lab is developing new
sensors, instruments, and signal processing strategies to optimize our ability to study the
natural and built environments. Her sensor development space at Nahant’s Marine Science
Center and chemistry labs on the Boston Campus provide space and infrastructure to bring
together engineers and scientists from a variety of disciplines to tackle critical challenges. Dr.
Mueller and her team are advancing our understanding of nutrients in ocean ecosystems by
developing an in-situ trace-metal clean sampler capable of automated sample collection and
now working on nitrogen nutrient sensors to support more environmentally friendly
aquaculture pens. On the wastewater front, she is working with collaborators at the University
of Washington and a number of operating treatment facilities in New England to validate novel
sensor systems for use in current next-generation wastewater treatment reactors. Dr. Mueller
recently combined labs and expertise with Dr. Loretta Fernandez into an innovative solution for
testing facemask effectiveness against the COVID-19 virus, modifying their software to assess
particle movement through the masks and establish the best materials for protecting people
against an airborne virus.

Dr. Mueller is active in efforts to communicate science to community stakeholders and students
alike.  She has shared her innovative water monitoring work with attendees at the Marine
Science Center’s public lectures and open house series, and is co-leading a wastewater
treatment workshop series bringing together regional plant operators, engineers, instrument
experts, and researchers to discuss the challenges and opportunities in the

A 10,000-mile Journey for Microbes

“I think it’s incredible how much power they [microbiomes] have,” says Andrea Unzueta-Martinez, a doctoral candidate at Northeastern’s Marine Science Center.

Unzueta-Martinez spent three months at the Port Stephens Fisheries Institute raising oyster larvae to try and figure out how they acquire their microbiome.

Andrea Unzueta-Martinez uses a microscope to observe Sydney rock oyster larvae.

Andrea Unzueta-Martinez uses a microscope to observe Sydney rock oyster larvae.

The term microbiome refers to the billions of microscopic colonists that inhabit every living creature. Even your own body is teeming with bacteria, viruses, fungi, and archaea—they make up more than half of your cells.

This story was originally published on [email protected] on April 21, 2020. Continue learning about Andrea Unzueta-Martinez-Martinez’s unique experience in Australia here!

Women in Science: Communicating our Impacts on Marine Communities

In case you missed it, here was part one of our series.

Building Knowledge and Pathways to Positive Change

Women make up less than a third of the global research population, but scientists at Northeastern University’s Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences are driving the change in that statistic through their innovative, successful research and their contributions to a thriving STEM pipeline for young women and future researchers.  This Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting faculty who are advancing scientific knowledge and removing barriers for the next generation of women in STEM.

How do human activities alter the structure and function of microbial communities, and how can microbial communities ameliorate anthropogenic pollution?

Featuring Dr. Jennifer Bowen

“The most rewarding part of being a mentor to me is in cultivating my student’s intellectual curiosity and watching them build the self-reliance and expertise they need to be successful.” – Dr. Jennifer Bowen

Dr. Jennifer Bowen and her research team seek answers to these questions, and the marshlands of the greater Boston area are an ideal landscape to find the answers.  Dr. Bowen’s work with a long-term nutrient enrichment experiment at the Plum Island Long-Term Ecological Research site North of Boston looks at the impact of coastal eutrophication on salt marsh ecosystem sustainability, and her work at Revere’s Rumney Marsh and other restored marshes in the region quantifies how these restorations alter the capacity for marshes to remove land-derived nitrogen.

In one recent study, Dr. Bowen and Dr. Ashley Bulesco, then Bowen Lab PhD candidate and now faculty at Eckard College, determined that nitrate enrichment in coastal systems is stimulating a shift in the microbial community and an increase of microbes responsible for decomposition. Given the essential ecosystem services provided by salt marshes, particularly their potential for carbon storage and natural nutrient filtration, the ongoing research by Dr. Bowen and her lab is providing critical information for scientists and resource managers seeking to prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Dr. Bowen’s early experiences with nature on her family’s farm in rural Maine played an important role in her path to becoming a scientist and educator: “Observing nature, drawing connections between seemingly disparate ideas, and learning to problem solve help me be a successful scientist.” She has consistently worked to bring these skills to her own students, and to make complex research more accessible to non-academic audiences. She translated her recent Nature Communications study analyzing microbial communities of the invasive Phragmites grass into a piece for the Environmental Science Journal for Teens, and her lab group translated their nutrient cycling research into fun educational activities for high school students attending last summer’s Coastal Ocean Science Academy at MSC. 

How will the inhabitants of marine ecosystems, namely fish, respond to pollutants – and how can we share this science with the next generation of ocean stewards?

Featuring Dr. Tara Duffy

“I often reflect back on the factors that sparked by interest in science and what has allowed me to be successful. It comes down to my fortunate interactions with curious, inspirational, and supportive mentors – both male and female. I try to offer to my students what these meaningful scientists in my life have given to me.” – Dr. Tara Duffy

Dr. Tara Duffy is interested in the molecular, individual, and population responses of fish and other marine animals to various pollutants, and what these responses can tell us about the ecological and evolutionary challenges they face. A 2016 study by Dr. Duffy and collaborators examined bay anchovy, an ecologically important forage species in Gulf of Mexico estuaries. The bay anchovy has a protracted spawning season and small eggs and larvae that likely encountered oil and dispersants during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. They determined that bay anchovy larvae are sensitive to oil pollution and that this species could be important for understanding population level impacts in the system.

Dr. Duffy brings her research experience and her passion for teaching students to communicate science into the classroom, leading impactful courses at Northeastern in marine biology, zoology, evolution, and food security and sustainability. Her Dialogues course introduced students to food systems and conservation biology in Greece and Romania.

She also goes beyond the classroom to connect students to the science and each other, collaborating with others on the MES Diversity & Inclusion team to pioneer peer mentoring and inclusiveness initiatives. Dr. Duffy also serves as the Faculty Head for the Three Seas Program, teaching Marine Invertebrate Zoology and Botany to prepare graduate and undergraduate students for  inquiry-based and experiential curriculum. Dr. Duffy and the Three Seas team provide students with opportunities to do hands-on marine science at world-renowned research facilities, bringing the science happening in the field and lab directly to the future stewards of marine science and conservation.


Women in Science: Sentinels for Biodiversity

Building Knowledge and Pathways to Positive Change

Women make up less than a third of the global research population, but scientists at Northeastern University’s Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences are driving the change in that statistic through their innovative, successful research and their contributions to a thriving STEM pipeline for young women and future researchers.  This Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting faculty who are advancing scientific knowledge and removing barriers for the next generation of women in STEM.

What are the causes and consequences of changes in marine biodiversity, and how can these factors be applied to habitat restoration?

Featuring Dr. Randall Hughes

“I am personally fascinated and intrigued by the minutiae of science – what happens when we change one tiny part of a system, such as the identity of a blade of grass, and why? I find that sharing that information with students and figuring out ways to apply it to real-world problems are the most rewarding aspects of what I do.” Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Dr. A. Randall Hughes uses lab and field experiments, molecular techniques, and data synthesis to address these questions by examining the interactions among the numbers and identity of species, the genetic individuals that make up those species, and the ecosystem services that they provide.

Coastal ecosystems are shaped by the interplay between ecological and evolutionary processes, and Dr. Hughes is helping understand these interactions and apply that information to management and conservation.

For example, long-standing work in the Hughes Lab has demonstrated that seagrass (Zostera marina) genetic diversity leads to enhanced response of the seagrass ecosystem to a wide range of disturbances. Recent experiments indicate that seagrass genetic diversity also confers resistance to wasting disease, which nearly eliminated seagrass along the eastern coast of the US in the early 1900s.

Genetic diversity is also important for the survival and growth of Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica), as highlighted in studies conducted with the Kimbro and Grabowski Labs at Northeastern. The Hughes Lab is currently working in partnership with state resource management agencies in MA and RI to find feasible ways to apply these findings to enhance restoration success of both seagrasses and oysters. In addition, Dr. Hughes is collaborating with the Scyphers and Grabowski Labs at Northeastern to break down the documented gap between our scientific understanding of the importance of biodiversity and the application of this information to habitat restoration practice.

Dr. Hughes serves as the Chair of the department’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, which works within MES/MSC to welcome, celebrate, and foster equity and diversity by providing diversity & inclusion resources and programming, facilitating mentoring and exchange within the department, and building the sense of community across the research disciplines and career stages represented on our campus.

How has climate shaped marine biodiversity in the past, and how will a rapidly changing climate affect biodiversity in the future?

Featuring Dr. Katie Lotterhos

When asked what motivates her research and collaborations, Dr. Lotterhos simply answered “I love data.”

Dr. Katie Lotterhos and her research team seek to address these complexities and to improve predictability and analysis of complex marine systems by using theory and experiment to inform each other and using novel statistical methodology to integrate data across biological, spatial, and temporal scales.

Research in her lab is driven by a desire to address the most central problems plaguing environmental systems.  Many of these problems arise from the threat of global environmental change on marine and terrestrial species alike.  As marine species are threatened by ocean acidification, warmer temperatures and lower oxygen levels, the Lotterhos Lab is investigating how intraspecific biodiversity – diversity between individuals within a species – can play a role in their responses to environmental change.

She is currently working with researchers from 12 institutions to analyze the genetic sequences of oysters, looking for adaptations within the species, and her recent analyses of genome scans on cod and other species provided key insights to help advance statistics analysis of DNA across many disciplines.

Dr. Lotterhos is a mentor for women in science at every career stage; in addition to PhD and Post-Doctoral candidates, her lab frequently hosts undergraduate researchers and, most recently, a high school intern from Essex Tech, Ellie Clark.

For the past two years, Dr. Lotterhos and her team have orchestrated impactful STEM workshops for high school girls supported by funding from the National Science Foundation.  These Evolution in Changing Seas workshops have introduced these young women to the evolutionary research ongoing at the Marine Science Center, and offered hands-on training with pipetting, DNA extraction, and coding.


From “Eww” to “Whoa”: Reflections on our School to Sea Programs

“Whoa, what is that? Ewww – It’s so slimy!”

The first reactions students have to the animals in our touch tanks are all over the map, and the first comments from this group of high schoolers were no different. We had just introduced a group of 10 sophomores to the marine animals in our touch tanks, including our Calico lobster named Marshmallow, and our extremely slimy Moon Snails.

This was the second rotation of three for these visiting students, who were visiting the Marine Science Center as part of the School to Sea program with Lynn Public Schools, funded through a generous grant from the Filene Foundation. This past Fall, we hosted nearly 500 students to introduce them to the marine environment from a scientific perspective.

Students learned about the intertidal zone in the classroom and then experienced those lessons first hand out in the field. During the classroom visits, the students learned about the different habitat elements that make up the intertidal zone on a rocky shore, then practiced with the tools that they would be using for data collection during their field visit.

After classroom visits, the students and their teachers visited the Marine Science Center and used their new knowledge of the intertidal zones and scientific data collection tools to explore tide pools and collect data.

The students were also led on tours of the Marine Science Center research labs and facilities, and learned about the history and geology of East Point and the region. The students learned about the work that MSC researchers are doing, including the robot mussels from the Helmuth Lab, the Antarctic Ice fish research in the Detrich Lab, the sediment coring done by the Munoz Lab.

The tidepools featured a variety of marine invertebrates, depending on the day, time, and tide – knotted wrack and other seaweed was always present, as well as small litorina snails and mussels, but some students were lucky enough to find sea stars, and well-camoflagued spider crabs. Some even made it their goal to find as many crabs as they could.

After the tidepool exploration and outdoor tours, students visited our touch tanks to see some other animals that didn’t happen to be in the tidepools that day, and some that don’t usually live in our intertidal. This is where the best exclamations happened – the “ewww” from before was thanks to one of our two Moon Snails.

These snails have a distinct round ‘moon-shaped’ shell, and exude a slimy secretion. They are predators, and eat by surrounding mollusks (often mussels) and drilling a hole into the shells to access the meat of the mollusks inside. We told the students this and showed them some empty mussel shells with the tell-tale hole.

When they saw the perfectly round holes bored through the shells, the “ewwws” changed to “whoas.” It was especially rewarding to see some of the students who started out the day being nervous touching the animals, then became comfortable enough to challenge themselves to hold some of the animals after being shown the proper technique by the outreach staff.

All of this was possible due to our partnership with Lynn Public Schools and the generous funding provided by the Filene Foundation. Thanks to this support, the students who took part in the program gained more than just a day at the seashore and new marine biology vocabulary. They gained a sense of place in their local environment, new knowledge about the ocean and its inhabitants, and a feeling of stewardship over the marine habitats around them.

Sierra Muñoz

Food, Forests and Fisheries: A Journey In Conservation and Food

Among budding wildflowers stood Vlad, a man waving a long metal hook as he gestured excitedly at our group. Despite him being slightly shorter than me and capped with a large and friendly-looking sunhat, I couldn’t help but feel intimidated. Laughing, Vlad explained how he voluntarily chased off poachers out of this wetland with the same hook before being hired as a field biologist and educator. I looked around me at the low bushes, marshes, lakes, and the trees that only barely concealed the skyscrapers of Bucharest towering around us and wondered what exactly I had gotten myself into.

My dialogue of civilizations was quite simply an experience that I couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. We began our journey in Romania at Văcărești Nature Park, an accidental wetland in the vibrant capital of Bucharest. Next, we headed into the Făgăraş Mountains. There, we worked with Foundation Conservation Carpathia (FCC), an organization that is working to protect the Carpathian Mountains and its biodiversity, with the goal of establishing the largest forested national park in Europe. Our typical day would consist of a group breakfast and paper discussion with our dialogue leader, Dr. Tara Duffy, followed by a day of hiking, exploring, and learning from a team of biologists, rangers, and conservations experts. I learned about invasive species, tracking and monitoring large carnivores, ecosystem services, and biodiversity indicators, which are traditional aspects of conservation biology. The FCC team took this several steps further, talking to us about government policy and the distinction of protected lands, what that means for the people who use or own these lands, and how the communist history of the country has influenced conservation.

The best part was that most of the learning was done in the field; I was able to see the concepts that we discussed in action. I hiked in ‘virgin’ beech forest, waited quietly in a bear hide, and collected samples with field rangers patrolling for scat, fur, and DNA of wolves, bears, and lynx. Most of the field professionals we worked with were locals, so I also learned about herbal medicines, how to dance traditional Romanian folk dances, and a two-way exchange of knowledge. One of my favorite memories is of the time I got to hear a traditional Romanian folk band while sitting on hay bales at a working farm. After the performance, I was able to talk with the group about music, tradition, and learning.

Next, we flew to Greece, learning about food sustainability in the Mediterranean with NYT bestselling author, Paul Greenberg. We started on the large island of Crete to focus on the definition and evolution of the traditional Mediterranean diet. This part of the dialogue was built mostly around outings to farms, wild areas, and even locals’ homes. I learned from different professionals each day on site visits to the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, local markets, and olive oil processing plants.

Heading to a snorkel site on the island of Crete. For being an oligotrophic (low nutrient) sea, we found a lot of sea cucumbers and other fauna! Photo from Caitlyn Ark

Heading to a snorkel site on the island of Crete. For being an oligotrophic (low nutrient) sea, we found a lot of sea cucumbers and other fauna! Photo from Caitlyn Ark

We examined how the Mediterranean diet has evolved due to globalization, tourism, and climate change. This was intertwined with cultural experiences; hiking the Samaria Gorge, snorkeling in caves, and visiting the Minoan Palace of Knossos. Learning about the historic culture was crucial to my understanding of the Mediterranean diet. We visited ancient cemeteries and historical sites to look for evidence of food and what that meant to Greek culture to frame our investigation in a historical context.

This is us building nesting sites for European pond turtles in Văcărești. These specific sites are on an east-facing slope, which is favorable for the temperature and incubation of the turtles, and will hopefully boost the hatching success rates.

This is us building nesting sites for European pond turtles in Văcărești. These specific sites are on an east-facing slope, which is favorable for the temperature and incubation of the turtles, and will hopefully boost the hatching success rates. Photo from Caitlyn Ark

In Glyfada, a town just outside of Athens, we visited an aquaculture facility, organic farm, and volunteered at the only turtle rescue center in Greece over our remaining week. This experience culminated in an individual research paper based on an aspect of the Mediterranean diet that interested us and we presented our findings to our peers.

Even though our time abroad was limited to a summer semester, I was able to learn about the cultures in a way that only immersion allows. I loved picking up bits of the language, learning relevant phrases like how to ask for more water (we hiked a lot!), and figuring out that the Romanian word for lynx also means laugh. I admired how the Greeks praise everything as ‘beautiful’, and how their generosity reaches past language barriers. These pieces of culture made this trip significant and irreplaceable. It encouraged my passion and desire to travel and learn through the exchange of ideas. This experience is for wanderers, people who thirst for knowledge, and those who are searching for spontaneous adventures that build memories and cross cultural boundaries.