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The collaborative effort that grew to become the Downeast Institute began in 1987 on the clam flats of six Washington County communities. Clammers and town officials, concerned about declines in soft-shell clam harvests, teamed up with Dr. Brian Beal, a professor of marine ecology at the University of Maine in Machias. They created the Beals Island Regional Shellfish Hatchery (BIRSH) - a facility where wild clams were spawned, clam larvae and juveniles were reared on diets of cultured algae, and seed clams were produced for planting on the depleted municipal flats.

Beals Island Regional Shellfish Hatchery on Perio Point in the town of Beals was DEI's home from May 1987 to June 2003.

BIRSH, as the program came to be called, opened the doors to its 1,600 square-foot-facility on a wharf overlooking Moosabec Reach in May 1987. It was Maine's first public shellfish hatchery.


Over the next 16 years, the former clam shucking shed produced hundreds of millions of seed clams for more than 40 Maine coastal towns and a handful of communities in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Shellfish production efforts and the accompanying applied research were conducted under Dr. Beal's direction by a mix of UMM work study students and staff paid with public and private grants. BIRSH developed techniques for growing, overwintering, and seeding clam flats, passing along those technologies to municipal shellfish committees, clammers, and the scientific community through published articles in a number of research journals.

In 1996, BIRSH organized as a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation. Its Board of Directors includes residents of Maine's coastal communities as well as specialists in marine resources, education and economic development.

In 2000, the Board changed its name from BIRSH to the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research and Education (DEI) to more accurately reflect its mission.

During the summer of 2003, DEI moved from its home at Perio Point (Beals Island) to Black Duck Cove (Great Wass Island) with the goal of renovating a 9,600 square-foot building used primarily for temporary storage of lobsters into a shellfish production facility.  In addition, the DEI board had its sights on creating the easternmost marine research laboratory and education center in the US.

Lobster holding facility at Black Duck Cove
(Great Wass Island, Beals, Maine) in June 2003

 

Original wharf at Black Duck Cove
(a lobster-buying station) in June 2003

In March of 2006, with help from the Trust for Public Land, support of Maine Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and the Maine Technology Institute, DEI used federal and state grant funds to purchase eight and a half acres and associated buildings at Black Duck Cove.

The site has more than 2,000 feet of deep water frontage and two working lobster pounds. The Institute has converted the property's former lobster tank building to a production/research shellfish hatchery and running seawater laboratory. 

 

In 2003, the lobster holding facility was converted to
a working shellfish production facility

 

Mass algal culture system at DEI

Recently, DEI has been able to complete one of its goals toward becoming the easternmost marine research laboratory and education center in the US.  With grant funding through the Maine Technology Institute's Maine Technology Asset Fund and the National Science Foundation grant through the Partnerships for Innovation program, a state-of-the-art marine education center was constructed at DEI.  This 1,000-square foot structure is well-equipped for classroom teaching, laboratory research projects, and other non-traditional classroom uses.  It has running seawater, freshwater, white boards, and drop-down electrical boxes for microscopes, PC projectors, and other appliance needs.  With an extensive floor drainage system, there is no limit to what organisms can be brought into the classroom, or what projects can be done.  The classroom has enough seating for 30 people.  The marine classroom/education center was designed by Sealander Architects (Ellsworth, Maine), and built by Pizzagalli Construction Company (Portland, Maine).  It was opened in December 2010.

DEI's Marine Education Center under construction (July 21, 2010)

 

DEI's Marine Education Center under construction (August 20, 2011)

 

DEI's Marine Education Center (April 2011)

 

The Education Center has given rise to programs for local K-12 teachers and their students who have begun incorporating the marine environment into their curriculum to augment math, science, social studies, and other subjects through hands-on, inquiry-based projects designed to create excitement and activities throughout the curriculum, but especially in STEM topics.

 

In addition to the Education Center, funds through the Maine Technology Institute's Marine Technology Asset Fund (MTAF) helped DEI rebuild a new pier to replace the old one.  The ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at DEI's Annual Shellfish Field Day in August 2012.  The pier is 100-ft long x 30-ft wide and is constructed of fiber composite materials supplied by Harbor Technologies LLC from Brunswick, Maine.  The engineering firm was Kleinschmidt Associates from Pittsfield, and the contractor was Mike DeLong from Brewer.

 

Aerial photo taken in July 2013 by DEI Board member Dr. Wes Hedlund

 

Today, DEI is engaged in two large-scale research projects.  One, funded through the National Science Foundation and the University of Maine System through the Maine Economic Improvement Fund - Small Campus Initiative (MEIF-SCI), combines translational shellfish research in the laboratory with field projects that have resulted in partnering with two seafood companies (A.C. Inc., Beals, ME), and Cooke Aquaculture (Machiasport, ME) to examine methods to produce commercial quantities of Arctic surfclams and blue mussels, respectively.  The other, funded through the University of Maine System, is being conducted in the town of Freeport (Cumberland County) to examine new ways to manage shellfish resources threatened by the recent explosion of the invasive green crab, Carcinus maenas.

 

 

Juvenile green crab (ca. 12 mm carapace width) sandwiched between two pieces of protective netting

 

In addition, DEI is looking ahead to a time when its current and expanded facilities become the easternmost marine research laboratory and education center in the United States.  The marine laboratory at DEI will afford opportunities for: 1) students at University of Maine at Machias to work with and learn from scientists from around the world who will develop research programs and projects; 2) local fishers and other entrepreneurs who will use the facilities as a business incubator to try out new ideas to create new products or services; 3) K-12 teachers and their students who will continue learning about the historic, economic, and biological importance of the local marine environment; and 4) the general public through seminars/lectures in the conference room and education center.  The marine laboratory and education center will attract marine scientists and their students who wish to explore and learn about the marine environment in eastern Maine. The presence of a marine lab 25 miles from the UMM campus will create seasonal exchange opportunities for scientists/students from marine labs in the southern U.S. and beyond. The site is adjacent to Western Bay that overlooks a pristine shoreline and coast with Cadillac Mountain 40 miles to the west visible on all but the foggiest days.  The deep water, rocky shore, and dozens of nearby islands create, perhaps, the most ideal place in the Northeast U.S. to conduct coldwater marine research due to the lack of any industrial or residential inputs such as nitrogen, phosphates, and other nutrients that, in many other coastal locations, contribute to eutrophic conditions.  Plans exist to create this new facility that will accomodate both research and development interests.  The pricetag to construct and equip the new structure is $4 million.  Half of that amount was donated in October 2014 to DEI by the Trustees of the Next Generation Foundation (Blue Hill, Maine).  Currently, we are looking to leverage the $2 million with an equal amount so that construction of "Phase II" can begin sometime in the spring of 2016.

 

 

 

Artist rendering of DEI as the Easternmost Marine Research Laboratory and Education Center in the United States

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