BRUNSWICK — Did you ever daydream of what your summer job would be – maybe a lifeguard so you could work on your tan or wait staff at a restaurant to earn good tips? How about wading into the mud a couple of times a week to put dead fish in traps and take out a bunch of crabs? Well, this summer, for two Brunswick High School students, that was their job and they loved it.

I’ve written a bit about the aquaculture project Brunswick High School has been working on before, but here’s a brief recap. Last summer around this time, the high school got a grant through the University of Maine’s SEANET program to grow soft shell clams at the head of Maquoit Bay, just down the road from the school. The initial grant paid for things like hip boots, gloves, and bait, and local businesses like L.L.Bean and Coastal Marine provided generous discounts on the gear. Further funding from Sea Grant, Brunswick Community Education Foundation and the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund have helped move things forward.

The project has been a partnership between the Town of Brunswick and the high school, with Marine Resources Officer Dan Devereaux taking the lead for the town in securing a conservation easement for the site at Wharton Point, and helping teachers design the enclosures where the seed clams were planted. Downeast Institute provided the clam seed, as well as training for the two teachers involved.

In the fall, the focus of the project was on green crab trapping to see what the population was like and how it might impact clams at the site. The students also designed posters with the assistance of Sea Grant, which you can now see at the Wharton Point site, as well as at the Mere Point boat launch and Paul’s Marina, two other local aquaculture sites.

A new one with specifics on the clam experiments will be posted soon. I should also mention that a big part of the fall was spent in “Mud School,” where students and teachers got used to walking in the mud and transporting the muddy equipment back on the school bus and creatively washing and storing it at the high school.

Then, in the spring, when most people were seeding their gardens, students were literally planting clams in the mud. Rick Wilson’s service learning class and Andrew McCullough’s biology students were the work crew. They spent many hours spreading out nets over the clams to protect them from predators. They also set up a critter cam to watch for any number of shore-side animals that might be interested in a trap full of stinky bait.

That brings us to summertime when the teachers realized that they’d set up these traps and put the clams in the mud and now their workforce was off for the break. With a little funding from the Town of Brunswick and two willing students, the problem was solved.

Rick Wilson’s own son, Ben, was eager to help out. He has a student clamming license, so he was already interested in the subject, as was his friend, Michael Marro, who also has his student license. I got to go out with them recently on one of their biweekly monitoring trips into the mud to see how things were going.

After checking the traps and re-staking some of the nets, I asked Ben and Michael what they liked about the work. “It’s cool seeing everything you get in the traps,” said Michael.
Ben added, “One time we even got a mouse.”

They’ve been capturing images of some of these critters on camera and also have been seeing plenty of prints in the mud next to the traps. When they aren’t working at the Wharton Point site, Ben and Michael are harvesting clams. “There are a lot of restrictions (on a student license),” said Ben, “but you can make good money and it’s pretty neat.”

On my way out, I caught a few local clammers as they came in on their boat and was able to ask them what they think of these students learning to clam at a young age and also helping out with the experiments to learn more about clam aquaculture and green crab populations.

Digging clams at a young age was familiar to Kirk Bouchard, who started at age 13 and has now been clamming for 39 years. “I think it’s a good thing. Whatever can be done to help is a good thing,” he said, referring to the studies of green crabs, in particular.

With the school year about to begin, students will be out in the mud again continuing to study the green crabs and also checking on the growth of the baby clams come spring. It has been a great success thus far and the hope is to include more students in the future, as well as potentially serve as a model for other schools interested in doing a field project like this one.
If you’d like to learn more about this project, please visit the blog, or stop by Wharton Point to see what’s growing in the mud.