The ten students enrolled in the Bowdoin Marine Science Semester this fall recently traveled to Kent Island, home to the Bowdoin Scientific Station, for their first extended field trip. (Later they will go to Hurricane Island, off the coast of Rockland, Maine, and to Baja California.)
The 200-acre island, which has had a Bowdoin research facility on it since 1935, is an ideal site for the Marine Science Semester’s experiential learning approach for a few reasons, according to Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Sarah Kingston, who is one of the program’s faculty members.
Just the island’s isolation is helpful, she began. Kent Island, in the Bay of Fundy, is about 18.5 miles as the crow flies from the closest mainland point in Maine. “The remote location means the island is off the grid with limited connectivity,” she said. “This is a wonderful teaching tool when studying the environment — we are automatically immersed in the setting.”
Additionally, the island’s ecological setting — with its dramatic 25-foot tides and boreal climate — “is a fantastic segue into the content of all of our Bowdoin Marine Science Semester modules,” Kingston continued, referring to the three- to four-week courses offered during the semester. The students get to observe physical oceanographic processes, the benthic (ocean floor) ecosystem, and the cultural history of the local fishing and island communities. “And the isolated island setting is a perfect example for population ecology and evolution,” she added.
Bowdoin has also set up two long-term intertidal monitoring sites on the island, where the students collect data on the ecological communities to observe how they are changing as the ocean warms.
Finally, the four days the students live off-grid on a small island begins to build a supportive community that will help carry them through the intensive and immersive academic experience. “Students and faculty alike contribute to communal meals, sharing prep-work, clean-up, and a good dose of laughter,” Kingston said.