As of 2 weeks ago (when I graduated) I am officially not a graduate student anymore. I have obtained my master’s degree and so now (according to Kylla) I am a Master of the Seaweeds! Luckily, despite my new non-grad status, they still let me blog! However, despite my fancy new title, and the fact that I now have a less intimate relationship with my desk, not much else has changed. As I have said before, its hard to keep me away from the Marine Science Center, so this summer I am working for the Outreach Program teaching kids about marine biology, and for the Bracken lab helping out an invasive seaweed project among others.
This week was packed with Outreach fun. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday over 100 high school and middle schoolers from far away places like Holliston and Lexington came to take in the beauty of East Point, while also learning about some marine science, history and geology. Mariah (the outreach COOP) and I took them on tours, taught them about the challenges of living in the intertidal zone, and even showed them how to do some real science – in the form of surveys – out on the rocks!
One of my favorite parts of showing the students around is when we see all the animals in our touch tanks. Everyone is always wowed by the rare blue lobster and the giant slimy moon snail. However it is our newest resident a North Atlantic sea cucumber, that has been getting the most wows lately. Even the teacher of the school group today said she had never seen one before. These are pretty neat echinoderms (relatives of seastars and sea urchins). They don’t hav e hard spiny skin like their cousins though, so they have to resort to other strategies to defend themselves. In life or death situations, such as when they are being pursued by a predator, the cucumbers will actually expel their intestines, leaving them behind in hopes that the predator will settle for eating that instead. Obviously this is very tough on the cucumber, and they must invest considerable time and energy to growing back their intestines, so this defense mechanism is likely only used as a last-ditch effort when the only other option is to be eaten. Another neat thing about these animals is that unlike their predatory seastar relatives, sea cucumbers are filter feeders, who catch small particles in the water using a feeding tree which extends from their body, as you can see in the photo below. Sometimes the students are so excited that I am not sure if they digest all this info I tell them, but then I will get an interested question and remember that there is always someone listening.
My biggest accomplishment of the week was that I managed to make it through all three days of teaching despite the fact that I am losing my voice!