The Rockweed Rodeo

Tidal Falls Plays Host to the First-Ever “Rockweed Rodeo”

COA students admiring a smooth periwinkle egg cluster up close.

Tidal Falls, Hancock, Maine, May 6, 2017: Despite the drizzly, sometimes pouring, rain, more than twenty-five interested folks ventured out in raincoats and boots to see what this was all about. They were greeted by their hosts, who although they came from varying places, all had in common a love for Maine’s intertidal zone. Aaron Dority, Executive Director of the Frenchman Bay Conservancy, extended a hearty welcome and then handed the floor over to Anica Miller-Rushing from Downeast Conservation Network. Anica encouraged each person to express what they thought or felt about rockweed and the intertidal area in general. Going around the room it was clear that we all shared at minimum a curiosity and at most a downright obsession with the creatures that live on and near the Ascophyllum nodosum, and the complexity of its responsible stewardship. Some were there as landowners and kayaking enthusiasts. Others came with professional and intellectual interests. Still others were there as students and teachers, eager to gather and share more knowledge.

Hannah Webber visits with other Rockweed enthusiasts.

Hannah Webber from Schoodic Institute led us through an entertaining overview of rockweed biology, including an explanation of the convoluted history of the name of the alga in question. Once known mostly as “knotted wrack” or even “Norwegian kelp,” the species found itself being referred to primarily by its most obvious, descriptive name, “rockweed,” not to be confused with “bladderwrack” which also grows on the rocks, usually right along with rockweed. Hannah shared a whimsical description with us, calling the intertidal “the ribbon of mystery.” She elaborated, saying, “Nautical charts end at the low-tide mark and land maps end at the high-tide mark; the area in between is the ribbon of mystery.”

Chris Petersen examines the rockweed, kelp, shells, and live crabs that Aaron Dority’s son, Leif, brought up from the shore.

Chris Petersen,  a professor of Marine Ecology at College of the Atlantic, expanded on this idea as he delved into the policy issues surrounding land ownership and property claims–a complicated snarl of bureaucracy we won’t get into here. We were also joined by a local artist, Jenny Rock, who had carved beautiful block stamps for us to help explore our creative side. The result was a gorgeous collaborative art piece festooned with the prints and quotes like, “The ocean’s bounty is a kingdom of its own.”

Jenny Rock’s hand-carved block stamps

Community art piece










Armed with fresh knowledge and clipboards the adventurous ones headed down to the shore to learn about the methods of tracking and measuring the growth and health of this brown seaweed. It is difficult to determine the exact age of the individual “plants” because the harsh weather can break them prematurely, but one can get a rough idea by counting the air bladders that grow at a rate of one per year. Eliza Oldach and other COA students have been studying the factors that contribute to the marine alga’s growth, such as variations in temperature and light exposure. Research into the possibility that rockweed has some beneficial carbon-sinking qualities is also ongoing.

Not to be outdone by all of this activity, ten harbor seals converged in the falls right in front of the pavilion in pursuit of the running smelts. It was a gentle and beautiful reminder of why we came out on this drizzly day.

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