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Invading Crabs a Focus of Maine Coastal Classroom

Story posted July 12, 2006

Institute participants
Participants from the 2006 Coastal Science Institute for Middle School Science Educators.

Scientists are concerned about introduced, non-native species that increasingly are finding their way to the Maine coast. A group of local middle-school teachers is excited to bring them into the classroom, however, thanks to a workshop sponsored by the Bowdoin College Coastal Studies Center (CSC) and the Maine Coastal Program.

Five pairs of middle-school teachers from around the state learned about invading species and coastal ecology during a week-long Coastal Science Institute for Middle School Science Educators, which took place from June 26-July 1. The program, now in its second year, is designed to offer teams of Maine science teachers professional development, increase their “literacy” in marine and coastal science, and develop hands-on curriculum to bring environmental knowledge into the classroom.

Marney instructs
Marine biologist Marney Pratt, left, helps teachers identify a crab species.

This year’s institute focused on the invasive Green Crab and Asian Shore Crab, which arrived in Maine via the ballast water in large ships. The Asian Shore Crab is a more recent invader that has started to displace the Green Crab in Southern New England and is suspected to have impacted shellfish populations.

With marine biologists Marney Pratt and David Guay as their instructors, participants explored the rocky intertidal zone on Bailey Island and at Biddeford Pool, where they learned field methods to catch and identify crabs and assess their distribution. Fieldwork was offset with lectures and laboratory work at the CSC marine lab on Orr’s Island.

Stemming the Tide of Invasion
kohorn in lab
A native Rock Crab, left, and an invasive Green Crab, right.

Invasive species are thought to be the second biggest cause of biodiversity loss after habitat destruction. By preliminary count, Maine has documented 33 non-native species in its marine waters and shorelines. While not all of these will survive, many are rapidly spreading and are overtaking native species. Each year, the U.S. spends $137 billion to deal with invasive species in all environments.

What You Can Do to Help

› Discard bait and seafood products and containers in the trash or compost only.
› Clean boat hulls thoroughly before launching in a new area.
› Never release a non-native aquatic pet, or the water in which it is held, into a waterway, storm drain or sewer system.

From: "Maine's Marine Invasion," by Tracy Hart, Maine Sea Grant Program, March 2005.

“The goal of the institute is to help teachers develop a lifelong interest in coastal science and stewardship among middle-schoolers,” said Anne Henshaw, director of the Coastal Studies Center. “Invasive species are a very relevant topic: they reduce biodiversity and degrade wildlife habitat with far reaching economic impacts.”

Throughout the week, the teachers discussed policy and economic issues surrounding invasive species, and presented ideas for developing multidisciplinary curricula to engage their students in and out of the classroom.

“We’re very encouraged by the level of commitment and creativity among these Maine teachers,” noted Henshaw. “They brainstormed, debated, and developed solid action plans for bringing this work into the classroom.”

Their ideas will become part of an Internet resource using Blackboard that will allow former, current, and future institute participants to share files and ideas electronically.

The Coastal Science Institute for Middle School Science Educators is funded by grants from Geoff Rusack '78 and Alison Wrigley Rusack, the Libra Foundation, the Kenduskeag Foundation, and the Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust.

-- By Mary Vargo '06

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