Bowdoin's Kent Island Research Season Gets a Boost

Story posted May 18, 2010

Being a rusticator is half the charm of being on Kent Island. The island, which is located in New Brunswick, Canada, is home to the Bowdoin Scientific Station. It perches off the northeast edge of Maine, between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

kent island meadow

On a good day, the trip there from Bowdoin takes about 12 hours and involves traveling on three boats. Twenty-five foot tides around the island usually require visitors to carry gear over long stretches of mucky flats before reaching shore.

The trip is well worth it for the small colony of scientists, artists, students and staff members who make the trek.

The remote island is home to one of the nation's most unique scientific field stations. It's a Mecca for bird research (and watching), marine and weather studies, and a tranquil spot to contemplate the beauty of the natural world.

It's also a place where undergraduates can work in the field with leading scientists—then discuss the day's findings at the dinner table.

kent island dorm
The 100-plus-year-old sheep barn that was converted into a dormitory in the 1930s will get major renovations at the end of the 2010 summer research season.

Operations at Kent Island recently got a major boost from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The BSS was awarded a $167,000 grant to renovate the main dormitory. It is the fourth, and largest, infrastructure grant the scientific station has received from the NSF. (Over the past nine years, the foundation also has awarded $1.3 million in research grants to researchers affiliated with the station.)

"The building is an interesting piece of architecture," notes BSS Director Damon Gannon. "It's well over 100 years old, with wooden peg construction and big, old beams. It was originally a sheep barn."

kent island cove
Kent Island cove offers a painterly view.

At the end of the research season in August, the entire structure will be lifted to replace rotting sills. It also will get a new roof, siding shingles, windows, porch, and woodstove. Insulation will be added throughout, and the kitchen will be renovated, as will the sleeping quarters upstairs.

"We want to make everything warmer and cozier," says Gannon. "The objective is to make it more feasible to bring classes out later in the fall and earlier in the spring."

BSS is used extensively for Bowdoin class field trips—seven of them use it regularly—but its national and international reputation has been made by the remarkably high volume of published science that originates there.

students arrive on kent
A new group of undergraduate researchers arrives on Kent Island. Photo courtesy Nathaniel Wheelwright

Extensive, long-term research on biology and weather at Kent Island has produced 200 peer-reviewed publications. Over a third of those publications have been authored or co-authored by undergraduate students. The island also hosts writers and artists, who find inspiration in the island's pristine marine environments.

Ten Bowdoin undergraduates will be engaged in research and art projects at Kent Island this summer. In addition to their work with Bowdoin professors, they will share their experience with professors, undergraduate and graduate students from a range of other colleges and universities.

Several Bowdoin students are embarking on new studies in marine ecology, an increasingly important direction in research at the field station.

Shem Dixon '11, is working with Gannon on a study of the island's eelgrass beds. The submerged aquatic plant grows in estuaries and shallow coastal areas. The Bay of Fundy's large tides and rocky bottom impose significant constraints on its habitat. Eelgrass beds have been declining in eastern Canada over the past few decades, for reasons that are not yet clear.

"There hasn't been much research done on eelgrass living in this environment," notes Gannon. "Yet it is an important keystone species that provides habitat for larval and juvenile fish. Shem will compare eelgrass beds at Bowdoin's Coastal Studies Center with those on Kent Island."

The summer 2010 Bowdoin student research at Kent Island includes:

Bryant Dossman '11
Natural selection and inter-island variation in Savannah Sparrows

Julia Fiske '12
Habitat correlates of Leach's Storm-Petrel nest burrow density

Elizabeth Christiansen '12
Fitness tradeoffs related to clutch size in Savannah Sparrows

Shem Dixon '11
Ecology of the eelgrass (Zostera marina) surrounding Kent Island

Elsie Thomson '11
Assessing marine alien species and the potential for new introductions at Kent Island

Jacob Shorty '12
Habitat preference and site fidelity of rock gunnels in the rocky intertidal and subtidal zones

Elizabeth Tarr '12
Demographic monitoring of Tree Swallows and Leach's Storm-Petrels

Elsbeth Paige Jeffers '10
Artist-in-residence (visual artist)

Anne Rothacker '11
Artist-in-residence: "Writing Wilderness: The Prose, Poetry, and Plays of Kent Island"

Evan Graff '11
McKee Photography Grant Recipient (photo-documenting the daily lives of students and faculty working at BSS)

kent island basin

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