For over 100 years, Massachusetts Maritime Academy has been preparing women and men for exciting and rewarding careers on land and sea. As the nation's finest co-ed maritime college, MMA challenges students to succeed by balancing a unique regimented lifestyle with a typical four-year college environment. As a member of the cadet corps you will live, study, sail, work and play in an atmosphere that encourages you to be your best.
Marine Science Rapidly Expanding
When Nikki Shattuck became a cadet at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, she did not realize she would be spending a lot of time on a boat towing a video camera as part of a project to map cup coral populations in Buttermilk Bay.
“I had no idea about this lab,” said the 23-year-old sophomore from North Attleboro, referring to the Aquaculture and Marine Science Laboratory. All around her, video monitors displayed live feeds from cameras on the bottom of Buzzards Bay, footage from video surveys and remotely operated vehicles, and instrument graphs of environmental monitors.
Out in the wet lab, tanks held lobsters, crabs, scallops, clams, black sea bass and coral, all student research projects in what has become a rapidly expanding major at an academy more known for producing vessel captains and crew. But a degree in Marine Science, Safety and Environmental Protection has achieved solid footing among the engineering, marine business and marine transportation degrees, with nearly 10 percent of undergraduates enrolled in the program.
The 164 students are nearly double the number enrolled three years ago, said Francis Veale, chairman of the department, which has been a major for 25 years. “We wanted to diversify, and the marine industry was not as robust as it was in the past,” Veale said. The academy’s location at the southern entrance to the Cape Cod Canal, the crossroads of boat traffic and shipping from the south and Marine science rapidly expanding program at MMA.
Three or four years ago, the aquaculture lab, which originally focused on shellfish, particularly oyster aquaculture, was rebuilt with an eye toward more diversified student-driven research projects.
When he was in high school, New Bedford’s Justin DaSilva worked in an aquaculture lab, so he easily adjusted to a new lab. “But coming in here, we get to use underwater equipment we didn’t have there.”
An 18-year-old freshman cadet, DaSilva originally was a marine engineering major, but switched to the marine science program because he liked the hands-on approach.
“This is what I really want to do,” he said. He sees himself heading into the Coast Guard in four years in a pollution control program or as an environmental officer. At least a dozen graduates are serving as environmental officers on cruise ships, Veale said.
“This is truly a maritime campus,” said adjunct professor William Hubbard, a marine ecologist who taught for 30 years in the Army Corps of Engineers. Maritime academies were not traditionally thought of as being involved in scientific research, but he has seen more freshmen every year expressing that interest. He has helped ground that research in projects that connect with state agencies such as the Division of Marine Fisheries and Coastal Zone Management.
The big project currently underway is a four-year lobster tagging study that tests the theory of Australian scientists that the numbered slender red plastic threads remain longer on lobsters tagged on the abdomen under the tail instead of the conventional tagging on the top side between carapace and tail. Using as many as 90 lobsters caught in traps set alongside the academy pier, the students will raise the temperatures in lobster tanks to duplicate the spring warm-up that triggers the molt, when the lobster’s shell splits along the seam between the large upper body, known as the carapace, and the tail. The shell jackknifes, and the lobster backs out.
The study is valuable because the longer that tags remain on a lobster the more information researchers can gather, explained Tracy Pugh, a senior marine fisheries biologist with the Division of Marine Fisheries and head of the Marine Invertebrate Fisheries Project.
Pugh is an adviser on the academy lobster study. “Any time anybody can get students to do applied science is fantastic,” Pugh said. Students know that their research is not just academic; it’s useful in the real world. The real world was evident inside the lab, where more than 50 percent of the lobsters caught for the tagging study exhibited signs of a shell disease that has contributed to devastation of lobster stocks south of Cape Cod. The disease is the fingerprint of climate change, as researchers believe the relatively rapid warmup of the ocean has somehow aided the bacteria that eat the shell, causing it to become soft, leaving the lobster vulnerable until it molts again. After her experience working in the lab and in the field, Shattuck envisions a career in marine research, possibly working for a federal or state agency.
Hubbard loved the change from PowerPoint lectures to work on boats and offshore sampling when he left the Army Corps and came to the maritime academy three years ago. He said the cadets have a unique set of qualifications with a research and science background and the ocean-going experience fundamental to a maritime academy.
Pugh agreed. When her agency is screening potential candidates for research positions, it looks for those who have spent time on the water, not just in the lab. “This program is producing well-rounded students,” she said.
Originally posted in the Cape Cod Times, 12/01/2017
Story by: Doug Fraser
Photos by: Steve Heaslip