This week we’re taking a look at another one of our Session IV college courses! Marine Ecology, taught by Dr. Clay Corbin of Bloomsburg University, focuses on the relationships between organisms and their coastal and aquatic environments.
At the Field Station, students learn about basic ecological principles, but they also get to explore the different coastal environments of a barrier island out in the field through quantitative and qualitative observation and ecological experiments.
Yesterday, the class had the opportunity to go out on the RV Parker with Captain Tom, where our College Assistant Coordinator Brandylynn Thomas helped the class in two different methods of species sampling: trawling and long-lining. Through these two techniques, students were able to record data on a variety of species. The class also talked about how these species went through evolutionary adaptations in their aquatic environments. Butterfly rays, clear nose skates, horseshoe crabs, as well as Blacktip and Atlantic sharpnose sharks were among the species that were caught. This trip in particular provides students with a unique opportunity to handle some of these larger species. All organisms are identified, measured, and sexed before releasing them back into the ocean. For some of the large sharks, CBFS actually participants in a tagging program through the National Marine Fisheries Service's Cooperative Shark Tagging Program. Through the tagging program, NMFS and NOAA are able to retrieve valuable data on migration and the extent of fish movements.
It’s pony penning week here at Chincoteague, which means a few important things for us here at the Field Station:
Above photographs by Jim Clark.
And once again, it’s time to reflect on our favorite island’s famous history. Where did the ponies come from? Why are the Pony Penning and the Pony Swim annual events? What does it have to do with the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company?
While ponies don’t normally qualify as marine animals, this week they’re going for a swim, so they can temporarily count enough to fall under our domain of study. They are however, a key attraction during our Coastal Mammals Summer Camp! Pony penning, or at least the version of it that we would recognize today with a carnival attached, started in 1925. The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company (whose website helped immensely in writing this blog post, along with Chincoteague’s website) was authorized in that year to hold a carnival during pony penning to raise money for better fire-fighting equipment. They eventually raised enough money to fund their own public pony herd, which is the one that grazes on the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge now. Larger crowds accumulated each year to see the ponies swim between Assateague and Chincoteague Islands. The ponies end up at the "Pony Auction" where the Fire Company raises funds by auctioning off some of these famous ponies.
In 1947, the year the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company started building its herd, Marguerite Henry published “Misty of Chincoteague,” a fictional story about the ponies of Chincoteague Island that made pony penning internationally famous. The book was turned into a movie and also spawned several sequels. The custom of pony penning actually dates back to the 1700’s, where the process was used as a way for farmers to claim their livestock, but started becoming an annual community celebration. It’s a well-known legend that the ponies first came to Chincoteague when a Spanish ship crashed on shore, however there are a list of theories that speculate otherwise.
Chincoteague’s Salt Water Cowboys will start herding the ponies a few days before the actual auctioning begins, so that they have time to transport them to the right spot and have them checked by veterinarians to make sure they’re healthy. The Pony Swim, attracting crowds from across the nation, will happen Wednesday morning before the ponies are then paraded to carnival grounds for the auction. The pony auction takes place on Thursday.
This event does two important things to help the island’s pony population. First, the proceeds from it provide veterinary care for the ponies throughout the year. And second, by auctioning off the ponies, the Fire Company is effectively able to control the pony population on the island. Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge will allow only 150 ponies on the island. This number is considered to be the maximum sustainable population, since the Refuge is home to hundreds of other species of animals, and more ponies would upset the balance of the environment.
We love the Chincoteague Ponies, and we love that the pony auction benefits conservation biology!
Even though many of our camps are marine science based and we have a lot of fun handling organisms, going kayaking, and hiking in state parks, that doesn’t mean we don’t participate in all the traditional fun of a summer at camp. Whether it’s tie-dyeing Field Station t-shirts or venturing out on one of our research vessels, camp at CBFS gives you a wide range of experiences and a whole lot of adventures.
Last week, our Intermediate Kayaking Camp and Marine Invertebrate Camp competed against each other in a CBFS classic: The Camper Olympics. After competitions like volleyball and relay races, counselors tallied up all the points and crowned the winning team!
Following the closing ceremonies, campers headed over to the campfire for skits and songs performed by their, if not all musically gifted, extremely enthusiastic counselors. They roasted marshmallows for s’mores and told jokes and stories. Some chatted by the fire while others tossed a Frisbee in the field. It was a great time to relax after a long afternoon of competition.
The next day was the last day of camp for both groups, celebrated with a day at the beach and a barbeque! If that’s not a great way to end a week at camp, we don’t know what is.
Temperature Effects on the Metabolic Rate of Marine Zooplankton - Shelby Schmeltzle, Kutztown University
Shelby Schmeltzle, a Kutztown University senior, spent her summer researching the temperature effects on the metabolic rate of marine zooplankton at the Field Station! Here, she talks about the process of researching her project and how she got involved with research through her university. Check it out!
What makes our campus so unique is that we host people of all different ages, and at any moment you can walk into the Education Center and find a group of excited schoolchildren getting ready to take a bus to the Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge, a college class packing up equipment for field study on one of our research vessels, a group of adults getting ready for a kayaking trip, or even grandparents and grandchildren going out crabbing together on Wallops Island. A lot of the time, these groups cross paths, and this morning two very similar groups were both hard at work in the lab at the same time…
Marine Invertebrates summer camp was studying organisms this morning with lab activities. They went from looking at micro-organisms such as zooplankton and phytoplankton under microscopes to handling macro-organisms like sea cucumbers and marine worms. After a presentation on different types of invertebrates, they used field guides to identify the organisms sitting around the room. This afternoon, they spent the day on the water, kayaking to take a closer look at some of the ecosystems they've been learning about.
Meanwhile, our Marine Invertebrates college course taught by Dr. Tracy Whitford of East Stroudsburg University was also studying inverts in another lab just a few doors down. After a lecture by Dr. Whitford, they had time to focus on identifying the many different organisms they had brought in from the field, including a sea urchin and a ghost crab! They used special camera equipment to take pictures of the organisms.
Check out more information on our college courses here and our 16-18 camps here!
We recently learned about a very talented young scientist who has designed an experiment to investigate ocean acidification - something that we are deeply passionate about here at CBFS. Randy Bowman is an eleven-year-old student from Virginia who has attended a number of our summer camp and homeschool programs over the past few years. This spring, he designed an experiment which was accepted into NASA's Cubes in Space program that was launched on June 25th. Not only did Randy come up with some interesting results, but his project was awarded "Best Design" and he will have the opportunity to send a related experiment in a weather balloon in the second phase of the project. Randy joined us for Focus on Fish summer camp this past week and we caught up with him to learn more about his project. Listen to Randy talk a bit about his experiment in the video below and be sure to check out his blog!
Today marks the last day of our Session III college courses, and while we’re sad to see them go, we’re looking forward to welcoming our next group of students to campus! Plus, we still have one more class to recap in Session III, and these students have traveled up and down the coast to explore and compare a variety of different ecosystems.
Coastal Environmental Oceanography began with two weeks in the Florida Keys, studying coastal environments down in Florida to eventually compare them to the ecology of our barrier island environment here on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Dr. Sean Cornell of Shippensburg University led his class in learning about the differences between the nutrient-rich coastal ecosystems of Virginia and the nutrient-poor ecosystems of Florida. Their base camp in Florida was the Florida Keys Marine Lab.
After two weeks of field work in Florida’s Everglades, the Florida Bay, the keys, and the barrier coral reefs, the class headed back to Chincoteague to learn about our ecosystems here and compare them to what they experienced first-hand in Florida. This last week of the class was spent both in the field and in the lab, working on final projects.
On Thursday, the class spent their last day on the water out in Tom’s Cove trawling for fish in order to catalog the diversity of species in their field journals. They also studied sediment to see what kind of environment these organisms live in. Along with the blue crabs common to this area, many of which had egg sponges attached, the students also caught a butterfly ray, an Atlantic bullnose ray, a seahorse, and many different types of fish.
“We went out and we saw an Atlantic stingray, and it had two barbs on the back,” Danielle from Shippensburg University said. “It was awesome!”
Students enjoyed the diverse environments that the class offered to them, and getting hands-on field work experience.
“It was definitely a very unique experience,” Patrick from Shippensburg University said. “Most classes you only look at one little section, but this class pulls everything together and makes you look at everything in a different light. It was very enjoyable.”
On Wednesday, the Icthyology campers went fishing on the Pocomoke River just a few minutes from the Field Station to learn about freshwater fish. The past few days of camp were focused on marine fishes, and campers used a variety of sampling methods to capture and identify different species.
Because one adventure isn’t enough for the day, they began the morning in the lab performing a shark dissection on an Atlantic sharpnose shark. With the help of educators Andrew and Jesse, campers got to learn about the anatomy of a shark up close.
After lunch time, campers visited a few sites on the Pocomoke River: one at the YMCA and one further up the river near the old draw bridge. Here, they caught and studied freshwater fish in two different systems: lotic (on the river) and lentic (in a pond).
The Pocomoke River is surrounded by different types of trees that affect the water and make it appear darker, the most common of which is the loblolly pine along with red maple and bald cypress trees. Campers were challenged to think about different adaptations that fish have to live in freshwater, marine, or brackish ecosystems. At the Y, there were bluegills and sunfish, and at the second stop along the upper Pocomoke River there were many channel catfish.
Campers compared the salinity of these waters and learned about osmoregulation, the process an organism undergoes to maintain homeostasis, or to keep its body fluids at the right level of salinity. They caught several different kinds of fish, including a pumpkinseed and many different sizes of channel catfish. When an averagely sunny day turned into pouring rain, these dedicated young scientists stayed out in the rain in a classic “you know you love marine science when” moment.
Our second annual Eastern Shore Summer Scramble turned a typical day at the beach into an adventure for all of our scramblers this past weekend! In an amazing race style scavenger hunt, teams ventured up and down the Eastern shore for the chance to win awesome prize packages. They stopped at different tourist attractions and collected points by learning about history, identifying animals, doing interesting activities, dressing up in team costumes, and having tons of fun!
Whether it was visiting the local Island Creamery, or the NASA Visitor Center right down the road from the Field Station, or Savage Neck an hour away, there were many opportunities to explore all the Eastern Shore has to offer. While some teams brought out their competitive side to win first place and stop at many of our exciting destinations, others took their time at each place they went and explored a little on their own. Either way, it was a fun day for each family, and everyone left with experiences and different prize packages to take home.
We want to thank all of our partner organizations that supported us by donating prizes and being landmarks for our scramblers this year! Just to name a few – the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, Island Butterfly, Daisy’s Island Cruises, The Ocean City Life-Saving Station Museum, Saxis Island Museum, Taylor House Museum, and CTG radio.
Make sure you keep an eye out for next year's summer scramble, and be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram and Twitter @cbfieldstation to stay updated on all of our activities!
Students in the Conservation Biology class have spent the past two weeks learning about the ecology and genetics applied to populations of rare and endangered species, and the conservation methods used to support these animals. Last Friday the students had a unique opportunity to meet with managers of both public and private lands to learn about the practical application of conservation biology.
The Eastern Shore is an ideal place to study conservation biology because of the intersection of a variety of endangered, invasive, and native species which makes for an often times unbalanced ecosystem which requires human intervention. To learn about the ways that the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge works to conserve, the Conservation Biology students took a trip to hear from Kevin Holcomb, a supervisory wildlife biologist at the Refuge who has worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for more than 18 years.
Dr. Haines of Millersville University, who has been teaching classes at the Field Station for three years, was an intern at the wildlife refuge in 2000 and was able to supplement Kevin Holcomb’s experiences with his own. Holcomb discussed the intricacies of conservation at the refuge, which is one of the top five wildlife refuges in the country in visitation.
The lecture, entitled “Refuge Management in a Rapidly Changing Landscape,” discussed what the refuge was working hard to conserve and why. Chincoteague is home to many different plants, insects, birds, and mammals that impact its ecology – aside from the humans that are constantly affecting change in the area.
The refuge applies multiple-use management in order to maximize conservation of the environment with things like public use and cultural resources, like the Assateague Lighthouse. Part of this plan includes population control of the animals: for the endangered animals, monitoring their size, and for invasive species, monitoring their growth. An example of invasive species in the area is the sika elk, originally from Asia, which were released onto the island by a Boy Scout troop in the early 1990’s. The refuge allows people to hunt the sika elk in order to stunt their rapidly growing population that is presently infringing on the population of the white-tailed deer. Another example of a species affecting the environment is the southern pine beetle. While this small critter is native to the Eastern Shore, it is not necessarily less harmful than the sika population. These beetles are making their way into trees, causing them to collapse which could be dangerous to other animals and also affects the recreational experience of hikers.
After the informative lecture by Kevin Holcomb, Dr. Haines brought his students over to the Assateague Island beach to discuss the Refuge’s future. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is currently working on implementing their Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) which will include moving the recreational access, or beach site, a mile and a half down the shoreline. Although this is a conservation measure to prevent the cycle of spending money to renovate the visitor’s center every time a storm hits, it’s taken a while for everyone to get on board. The class talked about different obstacles that the wildlife refuge has in order to successfully maximize conservation, and why it’s critical for the future of the island.
Everything you need to know about CBFS's educational programs, visiting Chincoteague Island, and more!