VIMS open house draws enthusiastic crowd

  • Sediment-Core Brownies   A visitor to Marine Science Day at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (C) learns how scientists take sediment samples by extracting a tasty core from a plate of brownies. Helping out from L are VIMS graduate students Shanna Williamson and Ann Arfken.   © D. Malmquist/VIMS.
  • Fish Collection   Graduate student Kristene Parsons describes some notable specimens from the VIMS Fish Collection.   © D. Malmquist/VIMS.
  • Larval Fish   Graduate student Cindy Marin Martinez explains the importance of larval fish to an interested visitor during Marine Science Day.   © D. Malmquist/VIMS.
  • Oyster Feeding   Graduate student Joey Matt explains the mechanisms and importance of filter feeding by oysters.   © D. Malmquist/VIMS.
  • Shark Jaws   Graduate student Diego Vaz shows off some shark jaws from the VIMS Fish Collection to a pair of visitors.   © D. Malmquist/VIMS.
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The Virginia Institute of Marine Science celebrated its annual open house on Saturday despite a taste of the inclement weather that has plagued the mid-Atlantic for much of May.

“The adventurous souls who braved the showers were rewarded with a fun and educational experience,” says VIMS Director of Outreach Susan Maples. “I overheard visitors throughout the day commenting 'wow' and 'that's incredible' to one another as they exited an exhibit or tour. That, along with the surprised expressions on the faces of those learning something new about the world we live in, lets me know the event was a success.”

VIMS Dean and Director John Wells says “We offer outreach programs all year long, but Marine Science Day is unique in that offers visitors a behind-the-scenes look at a wide sampling of the many research, education, and advisory service activities currently underway at VIMS. This year’s event was another home run despite the rain.”

Organizers are still tallying a final attendance estimate, but do know that more than 1,000 people had pre-registered. Attendance at past events has ranged between 2,000-3,000 individuals of all ages.

Grad student A.J. Johnson talks seageass with a visitor during Marine Science Day.Visitors to this year’s event learned how VIMS scientists help manage blue crabs, breed oysters, survey fish populations, unravel food webs, monitor water quality, restore sea grasses, and find and remove marine debris, among many other highlighted programs.

The theme for the event was “Sounds of the Sea,” in recognition of the important role that audio communications play in the life of many marine animals. VIMS scientist Sarah Huber explored the topic during a 10-minute “fast talk,” one of several mini-lectures offered through the day, and several activities in the Kid’s Pavilion allowed participants to create their own fishy noises using recycled materials.

“Sounds of the Sea” was also the theme for the “Wacky Science” photo booth, in which participants pose for photos in a surprise scene that will be revealed on the VIMS website in the coming week.

Maples says more than 150 faculty, staff, students, and volunteers contributed to make the day a success. “We are so thankful for the people who help make this event possible each year,” she says. “We literally couldn’t do it without their help.”

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During a seafood cooking demonstration by Chef Wade O’Neill of the Culinary Institute of Virginia, participants helped prepare a jumbo lump crab salad with a pineapple-cantaloupe sauce and a kiwi garnish. Lisa Ayers Lawrence, VIMS extension staff affiliated with Virginia Sea Grant, says “The event went great! Chef O’Neill makes the session very interactive. He had 5 or 6 people—including some youngsters—come up and help him. He also encouraged discussion and spent a lot of time answering questions and talking about approaches to cooking in a very family-friendly way.”

Elaine Owens dressed as a double-crested cormorant for Marine Science Day.The always-popular Marine Life Costume Contest—in which children and adults from around Tidewater model their handmade creature costumes—drew an enthusiastic crowd.

Alex Pearson, 3, won best overall in the contest with his sailfish costume, while Olivia Fitzgibbons won most original plant or animal with her personification of a leafy sea dragon. Girl scout troop 173/1076 won best group costume for their “Octopus Garden” outfits, and Lane Kilduff was recognized for having the most creative use of materials with his portrayal of a “noodle-branch” (a nudibranch is a kind of marine snail). Best representation of a plant or animal went to Lillian Copeland who dressed as a jellyfish. Her costume was one of several created by local costume designer Suzanne Smith for the Courthouse Players’ recent staging of “The Little Mermaid.”

Wells thanks the sponsors of Marine Science Day, who along with faculty, staff, students, and volunteers make the annual event possible. This year’s major sponsors were Dominion, the Christopher Wren Association, The Owens Foundation, C.A. Barrs Contractor, Inc., Canon Environmental Technologies, Inc., and Bobby’s Auto Service Center.