Posted October 21, 2013
Unlike many students conducting research projects this summer, Christine Walder ’15 spent June and July on a remote island off the coast of Canada and Maine in the Bay of Fundy. The 4 mile long by ½ mile wide Kent Island hosts half a dozen Bowdoin students, as well as graduate students and professors, all of whom collaborate on different research projects.
Christine’s project focused on Ascophyllum nodosum, a type of seaweed that’s dominant in the intertidal zone on the island. The rockweed is harvested by several different industries and is used in fertilizers and as a thickener in the food industry. For Christine’s particular project, she studied “biodiversity within the ecosystem with regards to plots that have been harvested and not harvested.” This required gaining an intimate knowledge of different seaweed and marine species on the island, as well as having an incredible amount of patience.
One of the most time-consuming aspects of her project involved painting rocks and marking out different plots. “I spent at least half my time painting rocks and hypoxying rocks, tying things to seaweed, hauling other rocks around, and just trying to make my plots visible. They’re really hard to find when the seaweed just flops over the markers, and it’s hard to make anything stick long enough to be permanent.”
Christine’s most frustrating moments of the summer largely grew out of the challenges of working on a remote island with the extreme tide cycles that characterize the Bay of Fundy. After a series of plot-marking failures, “we got brick sized rocks and we painted them orange, but the intertidal zone on West beach, where most of my study sites were, is like a quarter of a mile wide. Hauling 12 rocks a quarter of a mile over slippery seaweed [would not have been] an easy task. So we ended up taking out a boat and dropping them off and marking a GPS point and going back. We went and started digging in the seaweed at low tide and dug for half an hour and could not find the orange rocks. It was so frustrating… And then the next day I was just walking by and I saw all of them! It was so horrible, because we had gotten new rocks and hauled them out, and then there were the other ones.”
Despite some of the challenges, Christine’s experience was very rewarding. One of the most gratifying parts of her summer was not the research itself, but rather living on Kent Island. “I had never spent that much time in a remote location. I didn’t use my cell phone for 2 months. I almost never went online. Hot water was a strange thing to me, flush toilets didn’t exist, and personally I really enjoyed that. I thought it was nice to take a step back from the hectic pace that you have at Bowdoin or anywhere else, and it was really rewarding.” Additionally, she appreciated conducting her own project and learning more about what doing marine biology research entailed. Although she was adamantly uninterested in pursuing a research-based career before her summer on Kent Island, Christine is now certain that she would like to conduct similar research projects after Bowdoin. Christine is continuing her summer research as an independent study this fall and is hoping to publish the results of her study some time next year.