The Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s annual open house drew an estimated 2,000 visitors to VIMS’ Gloucester Point campus on May 30 for a day of fun and learning.
“Marine Science Day provides a wonderful opportunity for us to share our research, education, and advisory service activities with the local and regional community,” says VIMS Dean and Director John Wells. “This year, more than 150 faculty, staff, students, and volunteers contributed to make the day a resounding success.”
Susan Maples, outreach coordinator at VIMS, estimated that this year’s crowd was the largest in the 6-year history of the event. She says “Sunny skies and a full slate of engaging activities brought a steady stream of visitors throughout the day.”
Activities ranged across the 40-acre VIMS campus, from the new Seawater Research Lab to the VIMS beach on the York River. Because the featured animal for this year’s event was the scallop, several activities and displays focused on this once-troubled resource, which with the help of VIMS scientists now sustains the most profitable fishery on the East Coast.
In the Children’s Pavilion, younger visitors were able to practice scallop printing and don a mask that allowed them to see the world through a scallop’s many eyes. They also got a chance to drive a robot sub.
In Watermen’s Hall, Chef Kelly Turner of the Culinary Institute of Virginia sautéd scallops during her seafood cooking demonstration and tasting. Visitors also learned about VIMS’ Antarctic research, sharks, deep-sea creatures, the Virginia Game Fish Tagging Program, the marine debris removal program, VIMS’ juvenile fish and blue crab surveys, and shoreline mapping. Another display enticed visitors to visit the VIMS Fish Collection, one of the largest and most diverse on the East Coast with more than 128,000 specimens in 247 families.
Displays and activities in Chesapeake Bay Hall focused on blue crabs, marine conservation, multi-species fisheries monitoring, jellyfish and other zooplankton, seagrass ecology, and “Wondrous, Wiggly Bottom Dwellers.” Visitors had the chance to peer through high-powered electron microscopes, learn techniques of DNA analysis, and investigate biodiversity by classifying different types of pasta.
Two of the most popular activities gave visitors a chance to extract “sediment cores” from a chocolate layer cake, and to picture themselves as practicing scientists in a “green screen” video booth. Results of this “Scientist for a Few Seconds” activity will be available on the VIMS YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/user/vimsvideos) within the next few weeks.
VIMS’ lower campus featured the ever-popular seining activity, which allows visitors to collect, observe, and release small fish and invertebrates in the York River. Visitors were also able to tour the VIMS Oyster Hatchery, Seagrass Nursery, and Teaching Marsh.
A final highlight was the Parade of Marine Life, which gives local citizens and school children an opportunity to celebrate their favorite marine creatures through art. Featured animals included jellyfish, penguins, dolphins, blue crabs, fiddler crabs, anemones, sharks, squid, SCUBA divers, and many others. Monet Wilson, a 6th grader at Peasley Middle School in Gloucester, won Best of Parade for her seahorse costume. Nathan Stall, a 1st-grader from Yorktown Elementary, took the award for the most original animal or plant costume with his rendition of a puffer fish.
Learning took place even in the parking lot, as VIMS staff worked with incoming visitors to note their recommended tire pressure and pump up any tires that might have been underinflated. Underinflated tires reduce gas mileage and increase a driver's carbon footprint, with negative effects for Chesapeake Bay and the coastal ocean.