UMaine students host “ocean conservation week” with a Gulf of Maine focus

by Chase Brunton

The Marine Sciences Club at the University of Maine in Orono has designated this week (April 18-22) “Ocean Conservation Week.” The event is an effort to spread awareness of marine issues and show how people can act in support of the world’s oceans.

The club will be present at a table in the Memorial Union, sharing information and advice on topics like pollution, aquaculture, and local seafood. The students will be giving out ocean-themed snacks and sustainable gear, hosting an ocean trivia game, and bringing in a touch tank with Gulf of Maine sea life. Later in the week, they are hosting a showing of the documentary “Bag It”, a film about plastic and its effects on the planet.

The idea for the event came about when Emily Craig, a second-year marine science major and treasurer for the club, proposed that they do something fun to educate the UMaine community about ocean conservation issues. The other club members hopped on the idea, and soon it became a weeklong event. Now, she says, their main goal is to make people more aware of their actions, especially how they might affect the ocean.

“The choices people make–what they buy, what they throw away–all have the potential to impact things in a positive or not-so-positive way,” she said. “Change starts with consumer behavior.”

“There are many issues that people don’t know a lot about- like aquaculture and plastic consumption- that are hugely important right now,” said club president Katie Liberman, a third-year marine science major with a minor in aquaculture, and a recipient of the Maine Sea Grant Undergraduate Scholarship in Marine Sciences.

Increasingly, aquaculture is being seen as a viable option for seafood in the Gulf of Maine and the rest of the country. Species like Atlantic salmon, which in the wild are listed as an endangered species, are cultivated in aquaculture farms and sold in grocery stores, fish markets and restaurants. Shellfish farming is also seeing a huge increase, and many fishermen are learning how to grow mussels, clams, and even seaweed as a supplementary source of income.

One of the things the students in the club hope to do is show people how they can support local, sustainable seafood, which includes aquaculture.

Tyler Vankirk, former president of the club and current vice president, is enthusiastic about the club taking on something at this scale. He also received the Sea Grant undergraduate scholarship.

“Not only is this a great opportunity for spreading the word about ocean conservation, but this is also one of the biggest events that Marine Sciences Club has done in recent years,” said Vankirk.

Although this is a new project for the club, they have received support from the School of Marine Sciences, who provided some initial funding and are helping to get the word out. In addition, the Maine Coastal Program, a partnership between numerous ocean advocacy organizations across the state, has donated reusable water bottles to give to those who come to the week’s events.

In the future, the club hopes to expand the event, enlisting professors in the School of Marine Sciences to talk to students in an informal setting about issues and research in Ocean Health. They hope to also team up with groups at other colleges and organizations.

“Right now we just want to start something,” said Craig. “However, we really want to see it grow in the future.”

“This event will bring students, club members, and faculty together for an important cause, and hopefully it will grow in the years to come,” said Vankirk.

“Bag It” will be shown Thursday in the D.P. Corbett building, room 105 at 7 PM. Pizza will be served.