The Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s Eastern Shore Laboratory in Wachapreague welcomed an enthusiastic crowd to its campus on Saturday for this year’s Marine Life Day open house.
Visitors of all ages enjoyed learning about marine research; viewing live displays of oysters, scallops, and fish native to the Eastern Shore; observing marine life under microscopes and in touch tanks; and much more.
Richard Snyder, Director of the Eastern Shore Lab, says the event allowed the lab’s staff the opportunity to “reach local citizens, light up the minds of young and old with things they have never seen or thought about, and explain the mission of VIMS.”
During the event, younger visitors had the opportunity to play a few games of flounder frisbee, make fish prints and rubbings, and solve an oyster puzzle. Hands-on exhibits allowed visitors to mingle with VIMS researchers while learning about restoration of Bay scallops and eelgrass in Virginia’s coastal bays, the tolerance of blue crabs to reduced oxygen, and many other topics.
“The event captivates the interest of young people and instills a sense of wonder and appreciation for science and nature,” says Snyder. “It was fascinating to watch their facial expressions show looks of surprise and joy at the wonder of things they were discovering and learning.”
Snyder says nearly 250 people enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at the lab—which serves as both a field station in support of research and teaching, and as a site for resident research in coastal ecology and aquaculture. “From a social perspective, the event provides the opportunity for local citizens to see the lab facilities, learn what we do here on the Eastern Shore and at VIMS overall, and increase their respect for the Institute and our mission, and gain pride in our being part of their community.”
Susan Maples-Luellen, Director of Outreach at VIMS and the force behind VIMS’ annual Marine Science Day open house on the Institute’s main campus in Gloucester Point, was on-hand to assist her Eastern Shore colleagues with the event. “Each year we look forward to opening our doors and giving the public a behind-the-scenes look at what it is we do at VIMS,” she says. “While these are always fun events, it’s also important from a public-education perspective, so it’s great to see the VIMS Eastern Shore staff open their campus and show the public all of the wonderful research taking place there.”
In addition to Marine Life Day, the VIMS Eastern Shore Lab supports a wide variety of educational activities ranging from single-day fieldtrips to multi-week classes for students from a variety of institutions. Instructors and students from William & Mary’s School of Marine Science at VIMS, as well as numerous other colleges and universities in Virginia, other states, and even other countries, use the field station for classes.
For more than 20 years, researchers at VIMS Eastern Shore Lab used grant funding to support 1-2 internships for local high-school and college students each summer. As part of a privately funded initiative, VIMS has expanded this summer internship program to hire five high school and college students from Accomack and Northampton Counties each year. ESL staff also host a variety of public education activities throughout the year.
“Many people live close to the coast and never realize the rich biological treasures in their own backyard,” says Snyder. “Exhibiting the beauty and diversity of marine life helps them to understand why we have environmental concerns for our activties on land, especially here on the shore where water is everywhere.”
Snyder says he and his staff hope to make Marine Life Day an annual tradition for the Eastern Shore. “We are very pleased with the success of this year’s event, and are looking forward to welcoming the public back to the lab very soon,” he says.