Marine bio class gets hands-on harbormaster experience

Sep 27, 2021

MATTAPOISETT — Old Rochester students got a small taste of the life of a harbormaster on Sept. 27.

Lynn Connor’s marine biology class met Mattapoisett Harbormaster Jamie McIntosh for a hands-on oyster propagation lesson, during which students sorted oysters into cages and placed them in Pine Island Pond, where they’ll remain until the spring.

McIntosh said the propagation effort helps “to repopulate the brute stock that we have in Mattapoisett.”

In addition, the harbormaster said oysters eliminate much of the nitrogen, which can be harmful to plant life, in the water. While nitrogen helps plants grow faster, their roots grow weaker, leading to accelerated erosion on places like salt marshes.

A lot of that Nitrogen, McIntosh said, comes from homeowners’ lawn care. He said that when nitrogen levels are too high, oysters “unfortunately can’t filter out as much as they’re taking in.”

Marine biology students received a short lesson from McIntosh, then went straight to work. First they sorted adult-sized oysters out of the cages and kept immature ones in. Then students Maggie Conners and Rylie Coughlin donned wetsuits and wellies and waded into the water to place the three cages the class had sorted.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity for the kids to learn about oysters,” Connor said.

For years, the marine biology class would do lessons at Eel Pond, but pollution there made it hard for the class to gather any useful data.

Both the Eel Pond and Pine Island Pond lessons are part of the Mattapoisett Land Trust’s education efforts. To help with the program, the land trust pays to transport students from OR to Pine Island Pond.

Mattapoisett Land Trust Director said part of the reason for the switch from Eel Pond to a program at Pine Island Pond was that it “would probably be a little more advantageous as far as results and solutions.”

With the trust’s help, the class is now able to work with the harbormaster’s office to do practical marine biology work.

“It gives the kids insight into real marine biology,” Connor said. She added that she hopes the lesson will lead to further interest in the subject and volunteer work.

McIntosh, who said he hopes to one day see a propagation effort at Eel Pond, has plans for students, down the road, too. In the spring, marine bio classes will return to Pine Island Pond to check on the oysters, and he’s working to set up a program for students that would give them a more robust understanding of what it’s like to be a harbormaster.

“Almost like a school-to-work relationship with our department,” he said.