Coastal classroom: Beachcombing Bath students learn about invasive crabs

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GEORGETOWN — It might be an understatement to say Matthew Beard was excited to go with his class to Reid State Park and see what marine treasures Half Mile Beach held.

“Last night, it was sort of like being a kid on Christmas Eve,” the Bath Middle School student said Monday, as he and his fellow seventh-graders scoured the sand and seaweed in search of creatures like clams and crabs.

“You never know what you’re going to find,” Beard said.

Classmate Emma Boynton was enthusiastic enough about the Asian shore crab that she wrote five pages on the subject on her own, without being asked to.

“I thought it was really interesting,” she said.

The enthusiasm exuded by the students of BMS science teacher Monica Wright – who has been teaching them about clamming, its role in coastal communities and the threat of invasive green crabs – was infectious. The shoreline made a powerful classroom.

The middle school has been working with Becky Kolak and Ruth Indrick of the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust in its exploration. The students, who visited clam flats at the park and Hockomock Bay in Woolwich on Oct. 22, 24 and 28, have tried clam dissections and water quality sampling, along with learning proper technique and legal requirements for digging, according to the land trust.

The students are also learning how the invasive European green crab is preying on soft-shell clams, causing problems for professional clam harvesters and putting harvesting areas and the sustainability of the clam harvesting industry at risk, according to the land trust.

Since BMS is an expeditionary learning school, “we try to do long expeditions where students can dive into a topic deeply that involves field work, adventure and authentic information,” Wright said, noting that the students went clamming last month prior to this month’s survey.

Students on Monday set up square-meter study plots to find and record crabs, allowing them to focus on one particular area.

The survey has special importance for student Haleigh Willis, whose father has a clamming license.

“Whenever we see (a green crab), we have to catch it and kill it because they’re a big problem, and they’re growing more and more,” Willis said. “So if there are too many they can kill the soft-shell clams.”

There were many more clams when Willis and her father went clamming a few years ago than there are now, she said, because of the green crabs.

She said her father is concerned that “if the green crabs keep overpopulating, then the clams will be gone.”

The school project will conclude with students talking with harvesters about clamming. They will present the results of the green crab study and the interviews at a public symposium in November.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Sidebar Elements

Bath Middle School students Emma Boynton, left, and Matthew Beard set up a square-meter study plot to hunt for European green crabs Monday, as part of an expeditionary learning trip at Reid State Park in Georgetown.

Bath Middle School student Matthew Beard shows off a European green crab, whose appetite for softshell clams poses a concern for the industry.

Becky Kolak of the Kennebec Estuary Land Trust, left, works with Bath Middle School students Matthew Beard, Emma Boynton and Abby Knowles to analyze a crab they found while combing Half Mile Beach.

Bath Middle School students search Half Mile Beach for European green crabs Monday as part of an expeditionary learning project.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.