Science in Lubec, with a side of nature therapy

This week was exciting because I visited one of my favorite places: Lubec, Maine. Each year we travel here for a field trip with the Three Seas Program. While it is quite a drive; 6.5 hours from Boston, the winding coastal roads,  pristine fall scenery and good company make the time fly by.

Lubec is the eastern-most town in the U.S. and they don’t let you forget it. You can stay at the Eastland Motel, get a souvenir at the Eastern-Most Gift Shop, and be the first person in the country to see the sunrise at Quoddy Head State Park.

First light hits U.S. land here each morning at Quoddy Head Light

Despite the novelty of being the first to see the sunrise, it isn’t Lubec’s eastern location that brings us here each year. Lubec is situated on the mouth of the Bay of Fundy, the shores of which are known for having the largest tidal amplitude in the world. Everyday with the rise and fall of the tides, 100 Billion tons of seawater enters and exits the bay, twice! This water creates the highest tides in the world, with an amplitude of 50 feet in some places! For a reference, the tidal amplitude at the MSC in Nahant is usually around 9 feet. For this reason Lubec is an intertidal ecologist’s paradise – so much intertidal to explore!!

Exploring the expansive intertidal for Marine Ecology class surveys

We always visit on a week in which there are two low tides a day, one in the morning and one in the evening. That way each class can take the students out for at least one low tide during the relatively short 4 day trip. Since we get up at 6am to work the morning low tides and are usually out in the intertidal until at least 6pm for the evening low tides, mid-day naps are a necessary luxury that we allow ourselves. Usually there is also some extra time for mid-day fun, like hiking along the coastal trails to the arctic bog, where one can view sphagnum moss and carnivorous pitcher plants.

In this nutrient-poor bog, these carnivorous pitcher plants subsist by trapping insects in their “pitcher” filled with sweet nectar
Instructors and TAs take advantage of the change of location and expansive intertidal zone and design activities to expose the students to the spectacular natural history and biodiversity of the area.  This year’s activities included hunting for and identifying novel inverts with the Marine Invertebrate Zoology course, intertidal surveys to compare the ecology of Nahant and Northern Maine with the Marine Ecology course, and the infamous seaweed scavenger hunt with the Marine Botany course – how many species of seaweed can you find?!
Asco-fix-em! Quick thinking and improvising are key for successful field work: if your tool breaks, patch it together with some seaweed!

In addition to being a perfect field trip location, Lubec is also one of three regions where the Bracken lab has been maintaining a long-term biodiversity manipulation experiment. So in addition to exposing the Three Seas students to this beautiful place, my lab was also able to get some field work done. With the help of an awesome Three Seas student (thanks Vicky!) we finished all our field work, with an extra tide to spare!

Science aside, my love of Lubec stems from the fact that visiting is a welcome reminder of a time when life was a bit simpler. The single road that leads into the town is sparsely populated with the occasional house and a couple simple and necessary stores: gas, hardware, grocery. At the small grocery store (Lyon’s Food Market – no chain superstores here), neighbors chat about the quiet happenings of the town and no one laments the fact that they can’t go to the mall or the movies – the natural beauty of their small town is all the entertainment they need. Cell reception is pretty dodgy, so instead of trying to force technology into this pristine place, I turn off my cell phone when I cross the town line and enjoy a couple days of unplugged serenity. Feeling overwhelmed by the bustle of the city? Head to Lubec for some coastal nature therapy!

View of the Bay of Fundy from a beautiful coastal trail in Quoddy Head State Park

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