Academic Spotlight
Faculty Research, Performance and Exhibitions

Bowdoin Student Researchers Use Underwater Video Cameras

Story posted August 17, 2010

Bowdoin faculty and students have been studying the ecology and history of mid-coast Maine's unique Merrymeeting Bay and Kennebec Estuary for nearly a decade.

They have sampled the soils of its intertidal flats and marshes, measured water quality and velocity, analyzed industrial pollutants, and documented its rich, changing populations of plants and animals.

The research entered another dimension this summer. Six Bowdoin students have been getting a fish-eye view of underwater vegetation near Fort Popham and other areas with the addition of two underwater cameras.

Videos taken at the bottom are helping the students map beds of eelgrass, a submerged aquatic plant with ribbon-like leaves that is an important source of food in estuaries, as well as a cover for fish and invertebrates.

"We didn't realize it would be possible to catch glimpses of sturgeon on the video," marvels Catherine Johnston '12, who helped put together a video of highlights from their underwater surveys (watch video, above).

"On the boat, I've seen Atlantic sturgeon jumping in the bay. I see a lot of seals and eagles too," she says.

eelgrass researchers in boat
Bowdoin student researchers (left to right) Andrew Bell '11, Henry Berghoff '11, Holly Jacobson '11, Ben Towne '12, Catherine Johnston '12, and Cory Elowe '11.

Their underwater mapping is one part of a five-year study on ecological and economic recovery of waterways being undertaken by Bowdoin, Bates and the University of Southern Maine—a subset of a larger NSF-funded investigation administered through the University of Maine.

"We have earlier maps of eelgrass beds up and down the coast of Maine," explains Johnston, a biology major who is working with Associate Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies John Lichter on the project. "So far it appears that, with the exception of one of the beds on the map, the eel grass is still there."

Johnston says the video footage will be used to communicate to the public about the importance of this natural resource.

"Video is more interesting and visual than just data like a graph or map," she says, adding: "It shows people that this is what is in the bay. You probably see it often but don't realize it's important."

Other students working on the project included: Andrew Bell '11; Henry Berghoff '11; Cory Elowe '11; Holly Jacobson '11; and Benjamin Towne '12.

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