Kenneth Rensch's Diary

Friday, December 2, 2005 Monday December 5, 2005
Tuesday, January 31, 2006 Friday, August 11, 2006
Saturday, August 12, 2006 Sunday, August 13, 2006
Monday, August 14, 2006 Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Wednesday, August 16, 2006 Thursday, August 17, 2006
Friday, August 18, 2006 Saturday, August 19, 2006
Sunday, August 20, 2006 Monday, August 21, 2006

Friday, December 2, 2005 This morning, I received an email about the 2005 Alcoa Earthwatch fellowship program. I remembered that in 2004 I sent in an application but, unfortunately, I was not selected. I didn’t even read the whole email since I thought I will not be selected.
Later that day, after talking to my colleague, I decided to take another chance. You never know.

Monday December 5, 2005 I completed and turned in my application form on the same day. From now on, it’s waiting and hoping for the best.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006 I received an email from the Earthwatch organization saying “Congratulations! I am truly pleased to be able to advise that your application…has been successful and that you will be heading off to the United States….”
Yippee! I ran to my colleague to share the news with her. Back in my office, I read the rest of the email. I read it over and over again. It’s true. I’m going to the U.S. to work on Maine’s Island Ecology between August 14 and August 21, 2006. But where in the world is Maine?  I called my wife to tell her the great news. She was also excited.
Later on, I went on the Earthwatch website to find out where Maine is and to get more information about this project. I am really going to Maine. The only thing is—AUGUST IS SO FAR AWAY.

Friday, August 11, 2006 Finally, the day has come—August 11, 2006. I am really going to Maine in the USA.
The past couple of weeks I made a lot of preparations for the trip. After receiving the volunteer team list, I sent an e-mail to all 10 team members. From the USA: Jeff, Barbara, Ann, Eleanor, Christine, and Julie. From Japan: Nobu and Hori. From Spain: Ana. From Suriname: Ken (me).
Ana, an Alcoa employee from Spain, and I planned to meet in Boston on Sunday, August 12 and then travel together to the rendezvous site. A point of concern was the expected security checks on flights to and from the USA, which can cause some delays and flight cancellations. Lucky for me, there would be no delay on the flight from Suriname to Trinidad. At this time, I don’t know how things will work out for Ana. I hope we both arrive on time in Boston so we can be at the rendezvous site on time.

Saturday, August 12, 2006 I arrived safe and well in Trinidad after an early flight from Suriname. I am still concerned about the flight to Miami. So far, the flight is not cancelled, but you have to go through a very tight security check. All I can do is wait and hope.

Sunday, August 13, 2006 At 5.30 a.m., I was back in the air heading for Miami. After the security check, I had to spend about four hours at the Miami airport and then take off for Boston. After landing in Boston, I found out that my luggage was left behind in Miami. Too bad. Here I am in a strange country without luggage.
I met Ana at the hotel, and we had dinner together. Plans were made for the next day’s travel. I hope my luggage will be found before we leave tomorrow morning.

Monday, August 14, 2006 First thing this morning I checked with the front desk to see if my luggage was delivered. No, it was not there. I personally went to the airline’s office at the airport, and finally my luggage was found just before Ana and I had to leave.
Around 1 p.m., we met some of the team members at the rendezvous site. The project coordinator, Julie Ellis, drove us to the Shoals Marine Laboratory (SML) dock, where we met the rest of our team. The SML research vessel took us to the research site—Appledore Island—and we settled into the rooms. I share my room with Jeff.
There was a presentation and orientation on the SML facilities, and dinner was at 7:30 p.m. After dinner, Julie gave a lecture regarding the project’s background.
Research Site
Shoals Marine Laboratory is located on Appledore Island in the Isles of Shoals, Maine. Isles of Shoals, a group of nine islands, lies about 9.6 kilometers (six miles) from the New Hampshire and southern Maine coasts in the western part of the Gulf of Maine.
The five northern islands (Duck, Appledore, Smuttynose, Malaga, and Cedar) are in Maine. The remaining four (Star, Lunging, Seavey, and White) are in New Hampshire. Some of the islands are privately owned, and some are owned by the state.
The nutrient-rich Gulf of Maine waters that surround the Isles of Shoals support populations of nesting sea birds, migrating inland birds, a local lobster industry, and diverse underwater communities. Dolphins and whales pass by the isles during the summer months, while seals bear their young on Duck Island.
The 38-hectare (95-acre) Appledore Island is the largest of the nine. In 1847, Thomas Laighton of Portsmouth began the construction of a large hotel on Appledore called the Appledore House Hotel. Until her death in 1894, Celia Thaxter, Thomas Laighton’s daughter and well-known poet, lived on Appledore during the summer months. The hotel became an important cultural center, not only because of Celia’s artistry and hospitality, but also because of her beautiful garden. During the late nineteenth century, the Appledore House Hotel served as the summer retreat for America’s most famous artists, musicians, and writers.
Shoals Marine Laboratory
The Shoals Marine Laboratory is a seasonal field station operated by Cornell University and the University of New Hampshire.
SML is primarily a teaching facility for undergraduates. It also offers advanced courses in a variety of marine sciences and underwater research techniques, as well as educational programs for alumni and the general public.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006 The long-term goals of the study are to understand the interactions between herring and great black-backed gulls and the effects these two species have on coastal marine and terrestrial communities.
Team five (our team) will assist with the study on the effects of gulls and other seabirds on island vegetation. Previous studies indicated that terns and gulls have very different effects on vegetation in their colonies.
Some of our tasks will include:
  • Vegetation measurements;
  • Biomass estimation;
  • Vegetation management;
  • Behavior observations;
  • Greenhouse experiment;
  • Nest counting; and
  • Collection and analysis of soil samples.
Here we are, the Earthwatch volunteers of team five on the first morning on Appledore. This is not going to be good start. It rained the whole night, and the morning was very wet, cold, and cloudy.
After breakfast, Julie decided to show a movie about puffins (seabirds). These birds used to nest on the Isles of Shoals, but they were moved away by the more aggressive gulls.
Around 10 a.m., it stopped raining, and Julie explained the different tasks and techniques to the group. Inside a gull colony, a transect of 30 to 50 meters (98 to 164 feet) is chosen. At randomly chosen distances and on both sides of the transect, vegetation and soil samples are collected within a square of about 30 centimeters (12 inches). Also, the number of nests on both sides (three to five meters—10 to 16 feet—from the transect) are counted. Soil and vegetation samples are placed in well-labeled sample bags.
At 11 a.m., we were invited to attend presentations by three university students about the projects they are working on. At 1 p.m., we made our first field trip to a gull colony north of Appledore Island.
The volunteers were split in three groups:
  • Group 1:  Kenneth, Jeff, Christine, Ann (leader Julie)
  • Group 2:  Nobu, Hori, Ana (leader Meggy)
  • Group 3:  Julie, Eleanor, Barbara (leader Kipp)
On three different transects, every group collected vegetation samples and soil samples, and the groups also counted gull nests. Back at the SML, the contents of each bag containing vegetation were sorted, and the different species were put together and identified. These were placed in an oven to dry for weighing. The soil samples were kept apart for later analysis.
After dinner, we continued with vegetation selection, identification, and drying. There were two “Hach” test kits for nitrate and phosphate analysis in water samples. Since I was the only one on the team with laboratory experience, I decided to check if the test kits could be used to analyze the soil samples.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006 The weather was much better this morning. A beautiful sun was shining on the green plants and over the sea.
Today, we will visit White and Seavey islands, the locations of a tern restoration project. Long ago, these islands were the nesting places for terns, but they were driven away by the gulls. A group of scientists successfully scared the gulls from the islands and brought the terns back by using decoys to attract them.
During the nesting period, about 5,000 terns were counted on these islands. The vegetation growing on the islands has changed dramatically now that the gulls are gone. The grass gets taller, and nesting becomes a problem for the smaller terns. Scientists are trying to find a way to keep the vegetation low and more comfortable for the terns to nest.
After breakfast, two rubber boats took us to the islands. Everybody had to wear life vests. Christine and Ann started collecting tern guano for the greenhouse test, which will investigate the effects of seabird guano on plant germination and growth. Two groups of four volunteers were formed to identify vegetation along three transects of about 50 meters (164 feet) using a quadrant of one meter (3.3 feet). Around noon, we went back to Appledore Island.
This afternoon, three groups started looking for dead banded gulls around the houses on Appledore Island.
At 8 p.m., the group continued sorting, drying, and weighing vegetation. I continued checking the procedure to analyze the soil samples with the Hach test kits. First, I mixed the soil with a certain solution to extract the nitrate and phosphate from the soil. The mixture was then put aside to settle for a couple of hours.

Thursday, August 17, 2006 Today is my wife’s birthday. Too bad I cannot be with her. I called in the morning to congratulate her.
At 9 a.m., we visited the team that is studying migrating inland birds. Small birds that are nesting in the north migrate to the south in winter. These birds migrate at night. When they find an island in the morning, they land to rest and collect food for the next trip. Appledore is one of the islands on their trip. Scientists study the different kinds of birds coming along. They catch, weigh, measure, and band some of these birds and then release them. Some of these birds were observed along the coast of South America.
Back at the SML, two groups were formed. One group continued to search for dead banded gulls. The other group went to the intertidal zone to observe the behavior of the gulls. First, the group members counted the number of gulls in the zone and then, with a pair of binoculars, tried to locate banded gulls and follow their behavior for about 10 minutes to see if they were foraging, loafing, sleeping, or whatever.
I stayed in the laboratory and continued with the soil analysis. Christina also stayed in the lab and started a greenhouse test with soil mixed with different amounts of guano. She planted seed in the soil and placed this under the lamp.
In the afternoon, we went to Lunging Island, where two teams collected vegetation and soil samples. At the same time, Christina and Ann collected guano from cormorants for the greenhouse test.
Back on Appledore, the collected plants were selected, identified, and dried. At night, Christine used the cormorant guano in the greenhouse experiment, and I went on with the soil analysis until around 10 p.m.

Friday, August 18, 2006 The sun was not shining this morning, and the weather was a little cloudy. After breakfast, however, it got better, and the sun was there.
We visited gull colonies on Smuttynose and Malaga islands. Again, we were brought to the islands by rubber boats. On Smuttynose, two groups were formed, and every group collected vegetation species and soil samples and counted gull nests on a 50-meter (164-foot) transect.
We did not have the luxury of having lunch in a nice lunchroom today. We had lunch on the island, under the sun and sitting on the grass.
After lunch, we walked over rocks to get to Malaga. It took a while to get there, because the older team members needed more time to get over the slippery rocks. Once we got there, two teams were formed and again collected vegetation and soil samples and counted nests on two transects.
Around 4 p.m., we were back on Appledore. The collected vegetation was sorted, identified, and placed in the oven to dry. The soil samples were prepared for analysis.
After dinner, Julie had a surprise for us. She took us to Star Island, where we had some ice cream and other drinks while sitting on the balcony of the Oceanic House Hotel, enjoying the cold sea breeze. We also had a look inside the library and the reading house.
Star Island is the second largest of the nine islands. Sailors gave it the name Star Island because the island’s points stretch out in all directions like flashes of a star. Early risers enjoy the sunrise from the east, and everyone enjoys the beautiful view from the lobby porch as the sun sets. The Star Island Corporation has owned and operated the island since 1916. The Oceanic House Hotel, more than one hundred years old, is the largest structure on the island.

Saturday, August 19, 2006 Gulls
During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, gulls were hunted to the extreme for their feathers and eggs, and breeding colonies were nearly eliminated. Their populations have increased dramatically throughout the Gulf of Maine as a result of legal protection and food supplementation from the discards of landfills and fisheries. Due to population increases, gulls may be having a large and widespread effect on island and coastal areas.
Two species of gulls, herring and great black-backed, nest offshore on hundreds of islands throughout the Gulf of Maine. Gulls have important effects on both island plant communities and on the marine communities in which they feed. For instance, gulls radically alter island vegetation through guano deposition and physical disturbance (i.e., trampling and pulling up plants). They are also important predators on rocky intertidal communities, where they love to eat crabs, sea urchins, mussels, and lobsters during low tide. Their most common marine prey is the Jonah crab, which itself is an important predator on mussels, snails, sea urchins, and other crabs.
The great black-backed gull, the largest and heaviest gull in North America, is very aggressive and out-competes the smaller herring gull for nesting territory. They also chase herring gulls out of foraging areas. These interactions are important, because quality and quantity of diet during breeding season is critical for adult gulls feeding chicks. Both females and males take care of building the nests, sitting on the eggs, and feeding the chicks.
Today’s plan was to catch and band some gulls. Julie explained and demonstrated the catching techniques. After catching the birds, the top part of the body is covered so they stay calm when the bands are placed.
Before we went to the field, all necessary tools and bands were selected and packed. In the field, we had to watch while Julie tried to catch the first gull. This attempt failed, because this gull could fly. We went farther and were able to catch some young gulls. One group went out to catch, and the others stayed behind and took care of the banding. After banding, the gulls were released at the same place where they were caught. It was not easy to catch the gulls, because the area was rough and rocky and most of the birds were big enough to fly away. To me, catching gulls was the most exiting activity during the whole project.
After lunch, groups were formed. One group continued to count dead banded gulls. Another group did plant drying and weighing, and the third group went to the northwest part of Appledore to observe gull behavior in the intertidal zone.
Tonight, everybody had lobster for dinner. It was great, and we enjoyed it.

Sunday, August 20, 2006 To me, this was the worst day on the island. When I woke up, it was raining, and the weather was very cold. On Sunday, breakfast is at 10 a.m.
Before breakfast, I went to the lab to work on the sample analysis. After breakfast, we came together at the SML to gather information for our presentation, and we had a wrap up of the past days on Appledore.
We had dinner at 5 p.m. It was a very quiet dinner—the last one together. After dinner, I completed the soil analysis and cleaned up the analyzing equipment. The rest of the group also cleaned the SML lab and put everything away.
That night, we watched two movies: March of the Penguins and Finding Nemo. Then it was time to say thank you, and we gave Julie a card with everybody’s name and signature. Everyone also wrote a little note on the card.
We went to our rooms and started packing.

Monday, August 21, 2006 Final day—time to leave.
We completed packing, and everybody put their luggage in front of the house. At breakfast, everybody seemed quiet. After the meal, we went to the laboratory, and the last pictures were taken. At 8:30 a.m., it was time to go to the dock for departure.
When we got there, we found out there was a problem with one of the boats. Both captains were busy solving the problem. Finally, we got on board and headed for the mainland after the problem was solved. Now it was time to say goodbye. This was the end of a wonderful period.
I would like to thank Julie Ellis for her patience and every thing she taught us during these eight days. Also thanks to the other volunteers. It was nice meeting all of you, especially the two guys from Japan. I hope we will stay in contact. Also thanks to Earthwatch and Alcoa for giving me the chance to participate in this project.
Thank you.

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