After a week of heavy rain along the mid-Atlantic coast, the sky cleared and the sun came out just in time for Marine Life Day at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences’ Eastern Shore Laboratory in Wachapreague on September 24th.
The annual event gives visitors an opportunity to interact with exhibits profiling research activities at the Laboratory and to explore the biodiversity of Virginia’s seaside bays and coastal waters. Darian Kelley, who organized this year’s event with fellow ESL staffer Reba Turner, says, “Visitors were able to interact with marine life that they’re surrounded by everyday but might not be aware of.” Assisting Kelley and Turner were colleagues from the ESL, as well as faculty and staff from VIMS’ main campus in Gloucester Point.
During the event, microscope stations gave visitors an up-close view of microalgae, sea urchins, sea spiders, corals, and more, while small aquaria displayed “camouflage critters” such as burrfish, mantis shrimp, black drum, lookdowns, bluefish, and blennies. Interactive touch tanks allowed guests to handle shrimp, flounder, bay scallops, small crabs, and other animals; large pools provided opportunities to observe eels, oyster toads, skates, rays, sharks, and other fish.
Kelley and Turner’s favorite exhibit was the bay scallop survey activity, where guests were able to search for bay scallops in artificial seagrass beds using the same methods VIMS researchers use in their annual survey of bay scallop populations in South Bay. “The kids seemed to really enjoy the activity while being able to collect ‘data’ just as we do to assess the success of our ongoing bay scallop restoration project,” says Turner.
More than 300 visitors attended this year’s Marine Life Day, from localities around the Eastern Shore and beyond. In fact, attendees were lining up at the door before the event kicked off at 12:00 PM. “We were stunned with the rush of the crowd at the beginning,” says Dr. Richard Snyder, Eastern Shore Laboratory Director. “I thought everybody would be out fishing because it was such a nice day, but people showed up here.”
Beverly Stetter of Exmore attended along with her granddaughter Destiny Halleran after reading about the event in a local newspaper. Halleran, 15, was especially excited to attend due to her budding interest in marine science. “I love marine biology in general,” she says. “It’s so interesting to learn about the oceans because we know more about space than what’s at the bottom of the sea.”
But Halleran’s favorite part of Marine Life Day was the opportunity to interact with VIMS researchers. “That’s the really great thing as well about coming here is that I can meet with the actual scientists and I get even that much more excited about marine biology,” she says.
Kate Tayole of Cheriton, a teacher at the Cape Charles Christian School, attended Marine Life Day with her son Dickinson. They most enjoyed an exhibit that gave them a chance to catch shrimp. “It was fabulous and I wish everyone on the Eastern Shore would take advantage of this wonderful opportunity,” says Tayole. “It’s educational, it’s fun, and we stayed a long time!”
According to Kelley and Turner, one visitor was particularly interested in VIMS’ bay scallop restoration project because it reminded her of her days in Nantucket, Massachusetts, where the tasty bivalves were once plentiful. “Now bay scallops are not as commonly found, and that’s something VIMS is actively working to change here on the Shore,” says Kelley.
Now in its third year, Snyder sees the event continuing far into the future. “We're going to keep doing this every year,” he says. “It's a great outreach to the community, lets them know who we are and what we do, learn some things about marine science, and about the local environment.”