The Rachel Carson Site

My name is Jeremiah Ets-Hokin and I have been given the opportunity to work in Dr. Nichole Price’s lab through the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences this summer. I have been working with coralline algae, specifically Corallina officinalis, a calcifying red algae. Coralline algae are early settlers of destroyed ecosystems and induce larvae settlement of commercially important invertebrates such as urchin and abalone. Since coralline algae have a more soluble calcite skeleton compared to most calcifying organisms, they will be one of the first to go in an increasingly acidified ocean. With rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels already acidifying our oceans, there is an  urgent need to learn more about these important organisms.

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My experiment at Bigelow Laboratory all started with the search for a study site on the rocky shores of East Boothbay Harbor. One of the most memorable stories I have of the research I have conducted here is the wild goose chase for the perfect sampling site. We needed to find a good “site,” tide pools that were close together and also contained coralline algae, so that we could collect samples of the algae.

A friend of a friend had told us that there was a string of tide pools dedicated to Rachel Carson that would be perfect for our experiment, so we set off in search of the Rachel Carson site. Upon finding the plaque with Rachel Carson’s name, however, the site didn’t seem to be a very good site for any kind of ecological study. After much confusion, we decided to leave the site and continue searching. This consisted of walking over a mile along the beautiful rocky intertidal coastline of East Boothbay Harbor. About two hours into the search when we were starting to become discouraged, we came across a row of five perfect tide pools.

The only problem with this particular site was its accessibility — getting the necessary equipment there was going to be a nightmare. The only path that allowed for beach access to the site was a private road, so the goose chase continued as we looked for the owner of the private property we needed access to. When we finally got a hold of the woman that lived there, she happened to mention that the plaque dedicated to Rachel Carson  was actually put in the wrong place. The real site was the group of tide pools that we had coincidentally stumbled upon!

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So, once we had found our perfect site, we were finally able to start sampling the coralline algae. This particular experiment focused on learning about how these coralline algae acclimate themselves in varying levels of ocean acidification. As ocean acidification is projected to increase over the coming years, we are studying how the algae fared in more acidic waters, which represent future ocean conditions. To look at whether the acidity would affect how the coralline algae are able to grow, we went to each tide pool and used a nontoxic stain and marked individual clumps of algae. At the end of the summer we went back collected those stained algae and were able to measure the growth after the stain.

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While my story may seem a little tangential, the experiences and challenges of finding a good study site is a very real part of doing ocean science. This experience kickstarted my ten week research project and set the tone for all the other adventures that were to come. It gave me a better idea of all the obstacles facing scientists collecting data out in the field, and I’ve come to understand the flexibility and patience that is central to being a successful scientist. Working at Bigelow Laboratory has been an amazing opportunity and I think the work we did not only added to a body of knowledge about these organisms, but also paved the road for future interns that will hopefully continue the research at the Rachel Carson site. We have only started to fill in the gaps in the knowledge that still remain.


Jeremiah Ets-Hokin

Edited by Ally Fulton

The Rachel Carson Site