More than White Sand and Sunbathers

By Laura Barrett


Me

Laura Barrett is the Education Program Assistant at the Huntsman Marine Science Centre, St. Andrews, New Brunswick. She loves introducing people of all ages—children, students, teens, families, and lifelong learners—to the amazing creatures that live in the Bay of Fundy. Since working at the Huntsman she has noticed that people know more about species from away such as sting rays and sea lions then they do the creatures in their own marine backyard. Her passion is engaging people with their local ocean by getting their hands wet and their rubber boots dirty. She also strives to get Grade 6 girls to say “cool” instead of “gross”.


You arrive eager but unsure about what is going to happen during a Huntsman field course. During the planning stages, words such as boat and beach have been mentioned but these words can mean very different things to different people.  No the beach we are exploring does not have white sand or sunbathers and the boat is equipped with such devices as a benthic drag and plankton tow; not your everyday pleasure craft. Your attire for your boat trip on the bay, rubber boots, rain gear, hat and wooly mitts. The bay is cold, even in summer.

Your first day on the Huntsman campus involves a trip in the research vessel and a plankton lab. The first exclamation of awe comes from the view as you walk to the boat, the second while onboard when pulling the plankton nets from the water and there are “bugs”, “things”, plankton jumping about in the collection jars, the third when pulling the benthic drag from the bottom and animals are spilled onto the sorting table. “Seastars!” “Crabs!” “A fish!” “WHAT IS THIS?!”

sea raven boat

 

You look over the vast surface of the ocean and it can be hard to imagine all of the living creatures that are in this water, that rely on this as their home and how much you rely on these creatures to be able to survive on this planet.

In the lab, placing a drop of water from the plankton jar under the microscope creates a whole new set of excitement. Those little “things”, “bugs”, plankton jumping about in the sample are brought to life at 40x magnification. The microscope introduces you to a whole new world. You hear groans when it is time to put away the microscopes. This new world is fascinating and everyone wants to explore more now that their appetite has been whet. You find it hard to fathom that phytoplankton really provide over 50% of the world’s oxygen and that 17-metre-long endangered whales eat tiny zooplankton.

plankton diatoms

 

The week progresses with similar moments when the behaviour of the amazing animals you have collected from the bottom of the bay—sea stars, rock crabs, blood stars, hermit crabs—are studied in the lab. You never would have imagined that a sea star could hold 12 times its own weight or that they have eyes on the tip of each arm. Amazing!

The beaches may not have white sand and sunbathers but under the rocks and seaweed you find fish, sea stars, urchins, sea slugs, and in the muddy sediment worms with fangs and ones that are four feet long.

milky ribbon worm long

 

Programs at the Huntsman allow us to introduce people to the ocean, which is so much more than white sand and sunbathers. It is intrinsically a part of us from the oxygen we breathe (thank you, phytoplankton), to the food we eat (thank you, seaweed, for making my ice cream smooth and creamy), and the water we drink (thank you, for supplying 90% of the evaporated water that goes into the water cycle).

Exploring the ocean is like a whole new world waiting to be discovered.