Day 5: Marine Science Academy

The final day of the Marine Science Academy is what we generally call “Aquarium Day.” We load up on 2 buses and take the entire 55 student group to the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. The day is broken up into 4 parts. Students participate in a squid dissection, a remote operated vehicle activity, and a behind the scenes tour of the aquarium. Afterward we gather all the students, parents, school board members, sponsors and other involved into the theater at the Aquarium for a short wrap up presentation of pictures from throughout the week.

Squid Dissection
After the previous day’s experience with the turtle, I wondered how this would go. We started off with a discussion of classification. Students had a small collection of shells on their table and had to organize them into piles based on characteristics of their choosing. The instructor then went through a discussion of the classification of mollusks including our friend the squid. Afterward, we gave the kids a squid to be shared between partners. We discussed external anatomy and then the kids got cutting. Many had done squid dissections before and new right away what was what. We continued and found the beak and removed the lenses of the eyes. From there we had a discussion of some of the escape artist tricks of aquarium octopi.

ROV Workshop
The aquarium staff has prepared a presentation on a number of things related to underwater ocean exploration. They go through some of the history of underwater diving and lead up to a number of underwater research craft including remotely operated vehicles. Video footage of some of the discoveries made by ROVs was include in the presentation. There were also activities to help the students understand density and buoyancy which were a wonderful tie in to our activities from Monday. For the last few minutes of the session students got the opportunity to head out to the dock and drive two small ROVs in the waters of Core Sound.

Behind the Scenes Tour
Our final activity during the day and the camp was the behind the scenes tour of the Aquarium. Our group took the tour backwards as they would be preparing for a live dive during the time we should have reached the shark tank. So we began our tour on top of the 306,000 gallon shark exhibit. It was somewhat unnerving to know you were standing above that much water with sharks who knew they were waiting for supper!

From behind the scenes above the 306,000 gallon shark tank at... on Twitpic

From there we continued behind the scenes where we got a look at the food preparation area, some of the animals used for live animal education (alligators, sea turtles, and land turtles), and the filtration systems for the aquarium. Students really enjoyed the opportunity to see the jellyfish and sea turtles that are kept out of public view. All in all, this is one of my favorite experiences of the camp.

Final Presentation
To end the camp, we all assemble in the theater at the Aquarium with families and friends of the Academy for a short presentation of pictures from the week.

WMV of Final Presentation


Day 4: Marine Science Academy

Apologies for how long it has taken to get this post ready and up…the final post should come along tomorrow to finish up the week of our Marine Science Academy

The fourth day of our Marine Science Academy took place mostly back around Carteret Community College. We started off the morning with two activities to culminate our work at Cape Lookout from Tuesday.

Graphing Transect Data
After the students collected data on the topography of the beach Tuesday, we had to work to make sense out of what they had compiled. Students used Microsoft Excel and created a surface map chart of the data. Many of the students had used Excel before, but this was an authentic use similar to one in a marine science career and many of the students were amazed at how closely their model resembled the area of the beach they were mapping.

Biological Sampling Comparison
On Cape Lookout during the Tuesday rotations, one activity was to count the number of snails in the saltwater marsh. Students found a tremendous number of snails in the natural marsh. Behind the Community College, the Coastal Federation has been working to grow an artificial marsh by planting Spartina alterniflora. The group went down to the manmade marsh and did the same sample collection finding significantly fewer snails. Though the man-made marsh looks healthy and thriving, this serves as evidence that we can’t create overnight what nature has taken years and years to perfect.

Sea Turtle Dissection
After the morning sessions, we headed back over to the NC State Marine Lab for a sea turtle necropsy. Many of the students in our group had professed a desire to be marine biologists in the future. What better way to get a handle on this than to get into some real work exploring what caused the death of a marine animal? The only problem was, after the first cut, a good 20 of our 55 students were headed outside for some air!

Sea turtle necropsy...loggerhead turtle on Twitpic

Dr. Craig Harms led the necropsy of a juvenile loggerhead sea turtle. He led us through a discussion of some of the external anatomy of the turtle prior to the dissection. He explained that our turtle was a juvenile and we wouldn’t know if it was male or female until we got a look inside. He also pointed out two gashes that appeared to be caused by a boat motor or two on the exterior of the turtle’s shell. From there, he began the necropsy. Many kids were right there, front and center, ready to see what was going on. Many others discovered that their interest in biology was strictly for invertebrates and microbiology.

Dr. Harms took us through all the parts of the turtle’s internal anatomy. We discovered that our turtle was a female and her last meal appeared to be a crab. From the internal blood clots, we found that she was alive at the time she was hit by the boat props. Those wounds were likely what lead to her death, as everything else appeared to be healthy. After the information was collected, students had an opportunity to explore the anatomy of the turtle


I went to science camp and all I got to do was dissect a turtle on Twitpic

Living on the Aquarius
After lunch, we headed to the lecture hall of the community college for a presentation by Dr. Niels Lindquist. Dr. Lindquist has been on numerous missions aboard the Aquarius, an underwater research vessel. Each stay lasted from a week to 10 days for a total of nearly 70 days underwater. Dr. Lindquist shared some experience about living underwater and his research on sponges. It was rather surprising how interesting a discussion of sponges could be. He rounded out the talk discussing stewardship of our oceans and sounds. The main thing he was trying to make students aware of was the increasing numbers of lionfish in the coastal waters of the US. He shared with us this video with some surprising statistics about the proliferation of lionfish along coastal waters.

NC Maritime Museum
Our final stop on day four was a trip to Beaufort, NC (in NC we pronounce it “bow-fort”) to the North Carolina Maritime Museum. At the museum we had the kids go through five stations where they learned about the history of boat making in North Carolina. At one station, they were taken through some hands on exhibits of the different kinds of watercraft that were historically made or used in North Carolina waters. The highlight of this area was the pulley display where I got to discuss some of the physics behind simple machines as there were four different block and tackle systems set up to lift the same amount of weight.

Next, our kids got a chance to head up to the observation deck atop the Maritime Museum. From here we looked a bit at the landscape of the area. We could see the lighthouse on Cape Lookout approximately 10 miles away, Fort Macon, Carrot Island, Shackleford Island, Piver’s Island, and a number of other local landmarks from the observation deck.

Then we headed back inside for a scavenger hunt of the museum. The hunt took us through a look at the history of Blackbeard the pirate, boat making in NC, underwater diving apparatus, clipper ships, and tools of the seafaring trade.

After that, we headed across the street to the watercraft shop, where students got a chance to try out their boat-making skills first hand. Students got to experience planing boards, making pegs, drilling holes, and a number of the other parts of hand crafting a sea-going vessel.

Putting the kids to work...we've got a lot of work before the... on Twitpic

Finally, we headed into the library at the museum to hear a brief discussion about the efforts to raise the wreckage of what is believed to be Blackbeard’s flagship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, just off the coast of Beaufort. There have been a number of pieces recovered that date to the time period of the sinking of the QAR, and several other discoveries that make historians believe that this wreckage is actually that of Blackbeard’s ship. Students got a brief history lesson, as well as a science lesson on the restoration process of some of the cannon and other recovered pieces.

Day 3: Marine Science Academy

On the third day of the Brad Sneeden Marine Science Academy, the students had three activities that took them all over the Sound just off Beaufort, NC. My group of students started off on Piver’s Island at the Duke Marine lab, then boarded the Susan B. Hudson research vessel to go over to Shackleford Island. At Shackleford, we met up with Dr. Sue Stuska who took us to view some of the island’s wild horses. Finally, we reboarded the Susan Hudson for a dredge/trawling activity in the sound.

Duke Marine Lab
At the Duke Marine Lab, students met with one of the graduate students in marine biology. She led us through a discussion of the characteristics of marine mammals, starting off with whales. The students were given the task of pretending to be each of the three types of baleen whales: strainers, gulpers, and bubblers. The students seemed to have the most fun being bubblers. Here’s a picture of four students working together as bubblers using oregano to represent fish, straws to represent the whales expelling bubbles from their blow holes, allowing them to create a “bait ball” of fish.

Attempting to mimic humobsck whale "bubbling" on Twitpic

And here’s a video from Nature’s Great Events of a humpback whale swallowing a bait ball created by dolphins:

From there, the students got a chance to try out Adobe Audition to view and listen to recordings of dolphin sounds. Students worked to isolate the “voices” of particular dolphins by listening and viewing the waveform of the audio files.

Shackleford Island Horses
After boarding the Susan B. Hudson and taking the short trip over to Shackleford, the students had a walking lunch on the way to view some of the horses. Shackleford has 121 wild horses that have been here in North Carolina for centuries. Legend has it that they swam/washed ashore from sinking ships sailing from Europe, however the likelihood of those ships carrying both male and female horses is slim. The horses are genetically linked to Spanish horses, but there is no certain point or time of origin for these horses in North Carolina.

After a short walk, we came upon a normal sized harem with one stallion and three mares.
Same harem now with stallion on Twitpic

This group of horses walked up to us and a couple of them were less than 5 feet away from members of our group. Dr. Stuska assured us that to these horses humans are generally little more than part of the landscape, like trees or bushes. They do not as of yet look for human food as they have an abundance of food on the islands. They also only become wary of humans if we come too close or appear to surround them.

While we watched, Dr. Stuska discussed a couple of different methods for biological sampling by having some students continuously looking for behavior changes, while others recorded behaviors every 30 seconds. The students were testing the hypothesis that mares graze more often than stallions. Though we only were able to watch for about 4 to 5 minutes, the hypothesis was supported by the data collected. Dr. Stuska confirmed the results, but added that stallions appear to eat faster than mares despite the decreased grazing time.

After the few minutes of data collection, we moved further down the island to observer another harem. This one had eight total horses including a couple of foals. One of the females was suspected to be pregnant and another of the rangers was attempting to collect a dung sample to confirm their suspicions. We spent about another half hour observing the horses and then headed back to board the Susan Hudson for our trawling activity.

On Board the Susan Hudson
The winds were too strong for us to take the Susan Hudson out oceanside, so we stayed in the sound for our dredge and trawling activities. After a few minutes on the water, we dropped the dredge bucket to see what sorts of organisms we could collect off the bottom of the Sound. Our dredge returned an abundance of sea urchins and lots of empty oyster shells. Digging around we found a few other interesting critters. There were some small crabs, a couple of hermit crabs, live scallops, and a couple of unknown gastropods. The students were most interested in the sea urchins and a brittle star that was found after the initial search.

Our dredge haul on Twitpic

Searchin' for an urchin on Twitpic

Don't call her an echinoderm she's my seastar... on Twitpic

After the dredge, we tossed out the trawl net to see what we could find higher in the water column. Hauling in the net returned a small number of fish, but some with interesting differences. We caught a couple of spot, a small flounder, and a lizardfish. Students took time to look at the adaptations that allowed each fish to fill its’ particular ecological niche. Earlier in the day, the students caught a flounder that was young enough to still have an eye on each side of its head, but unfortunately had to toss it back before our group boarded the ship.

All in all, Day 3 was a wonderful day, with cooler temperatures, no rain, and some excellent science activities enjoyed by all!!

Day 2: Marine Science Academy

Cape Lookout Lighthouse from the ferry on Twitpic

Isn’t that a wonderful view to start off the day? That is the Cape Lookout Lighthouse as seen from the Local Yokel Ferry carrying a group of middle school kids across the sound to the island. We spent our second day of the camp doing a number of activities on the island. The forecast was calling for a 60% chance of rain so we tempered our expectations for how the day would go, and luckily had nothing harder than a drizzle until we boarded the ferries to head back to the mainland.

During the day, students rotated through 5 stations. We spent about 45 minutes at each station. A brief rundown of each station:


Our kids got a brief introduction to geocaching today. With the use of handheld GPS units, groups went out and hid camouflaged containers for another group to find. They had to find a good hiding spot, record the coordinates, give a clue and then return to our home base. There they switched their coordinates with another group who went to find the hidden cache. The containers had a second set of coordinates for a cache which I hid near the base of the lighthouse containing a log book and disposable camera for them to photograph their geocaching experience. The kids loved the freedom to roam the island and finding the “hidden treasures.”


The next station had our students using lines and poles to collect data on the topography of a small section of the beach on the ocean side of Cape Lookout. The students collected data throughout the day and will be using this data Thursday morning to create a topographic map using Microsoft Excel in the computer lab.


Our groups also had a short discussion of various types of shells that can be found along the shores of eastern North Carolina. They saw examples of scotch bonnets, sand dollars, and whelk shells. Many students, despite living in the area their whole lives, didn’t realize that we do not have conchs living off our coast. The shells that are commonly referred to as conch shells here are actually whelks. Each student got a scotch bonnet of their own to take home as the North Carolina state shell.

Biological Sampling

Next our groups headed to a saltwater marsh area of the island to do some biological sampling. The counted snails in the marsh and will compare this number to the number they find in the man-made marsh behind the college on Thursday. They also used kick nets to sample fish and invertebrates near the island.

The final station had the kids doing some additional water quality sampling for the waters near the docks at Cape Lookout. Students collected dissolved oxygen, salinity, temperature and turbidity readings to compare to those from the water’s behind the community college.

Tomorrow we head over to the Duke Marine Lab, go trawling on the Susan B. Hudson, and take a trip over to Shackleford Banks to do some research on the wild horses of North Carolina. I’ll leave you with a picture from the ferry of a few of the horses this morning. Expect many more tomorrow!

Wild horses on Shackleford Banks on the way to Cape Lookout..... on Twitpic

Day 1: Marine Science Academy

Today was the first day of the 2009 Brad Sneeden Marine Science Academy.  This year we have 55 students from across Carteret and Craven Counties meeting at Carteret Community College in Morehead City, NC.  The students are all rising 7th, 8th and 9th graders who are giving up their first full week of summer for academic pursuits! The focus of this week is “Careers in the Marine Sciences”.  This is the second year of the program.

Today’s activities were located on and around the campus of Carteret Community College.  We started off the morning with an inquiry activity dealing with neutral buoyancy.  The students were asked to design a submersible that would remain in the middle of a column of water inside an aquarium.  We discussed positive and negative buoyancy, density, and the principles behind neutral buoyancy.  The students worked for nearly an hour and a half with one group finally having success.  During the activity, we took a few minutes to step back and discuss the formula for calculating density and played a quick game of “Will It Float?” a la David Letterman.  The students were quite surprised at the results from a regular Coke and a Diet Coke as well as the two large rocks (one of them being a giant pumice stone).  The student’s struggle allowed us to discuss how scientists don’t always succeed when expected and often have to rely on more than just trial and error for success.

IMG00027.jpg on Twitpic


Next, we visited the Aquaculture facilities at Carteret Community College.  There students got a chance to view some of the marine animal husbandry program then headed out for some experience building oyster spat collectors.  Here our students let out some apparently pent up rage while making holes in the oyster shells for the collectors.  Other students helped fill bags with oyster shells to be used as sea walls.

NC State Seafood Laboratory

After a quick lunch, we headed over to the North Carolina State University Seafood Laboratory. At the Seafood Laboratory we split into two groups. The first group went inside to talk about fresh, summer seafood in North Carolina. We were given some information on how to determine if a fish is fresh at a market. There are a number of things to look for: slime coat, red gills, clear eyes, and no odor other than that of the ocean. We then got a look at some fresh flounder and mahi-mahi.

IMG00031.jpg on Twitpic

After some discussion of the fish and their habits along the NC seashore, we were treated to a snack of fresh fried mahi-mahi. The kids also enjoyed some Smoked Rainbow Trout jerky from the North Carolina Mountains.

After that, the group moved outside for some water sampling in the Bogue Sound. The group drew in two seine nets to examine the marine fish and invertebrates of the sound. We collected a large number of shrimp, some pinfish, a couple of cornet fish among others. There was also a chance to test water salinity, dissolved oxygen, and temperature. Students will be comparing their results from today’s Sound measurements with those they will gather tomorrow at Cape Lookout.

IMG00032.jpg on Twitpic

Carteret Community College Jet Propulsion Lab

Our final side trip for the day was over to the Jet Propulsion Lab at the community college. Here, students work on engine building and repair as well as basic boat building skills. Our first activity was a tour of one of the workshops.

IMG00033.jpg Jet Propulsion Lab at local community college on Twitpic

The connections to all sorts of other disciplines were amazing to hear. Our guide explained how boat building involves geometry and algebra, because none of the fanciest woodworking is done at 90 degree angles. He also explained the roll of biology in the selection of woods for boat building, giving the example of teak with its natural fungicides. I was also greatly impressed with his interest in history, discussing a number of pieces of wood from boats that were 50 to 100 years old, but with wood from trees that were an additional 100 years old. We closed out this portion of the tour with a look at the computerized router. With this router, students are able to use a program much like Microsoft Publisher to design an image to be cut into a piece of wood. The router then translates the image into a series of X, Y, and Z coordinates, and makes the cuts within a few minutes. The piece below, a tribute to teachers and students everywhere, was cut in under 3 minutes.

Boat building robot on Twitpic

Happy summer to all you teachers...made in 3 minutes by computer controlled router... on Twitpic

Preparing for Cape Lookout
The day’s final activities were a look at the GPS and Transecting equipment that will be used during tomorrow’s trip to Cape Lookout. Students will participate in a geocaching activity using the GPS units. They will hide an object on the Cape, record the coordinates, and exchange their coordinates with another group who attempts to find the hidden object. The transecting equipment will be used to collect data to generate a topographic map of a section of the ocean-side beach.

Overall, I think the week is off to a wonderful start. Look for some great pictures of activities taking place tomorrow over at Cape Lookout National Seashore!