BELFAST — High schoolers, middle schoolers and teachers came together May 25 to offer fifth graders and one fourth grade class from Capt. Albert W. Stevens School a look at what is in Belfast Bay to celebrate World Oceans Day.

Although the day is officially recognized June 8, Belfast students got a head start on ocean-related activities with several stations set up along the Harbor Walk where they could interact with the types of organisms that are found in the bay, including lobsters, seaweed, starfish, crabs and other interesting creatures.

A CASS students holds a crab caught out of Belfast Bay during the district’s World Ocean Day event May 25. Photo by Kendra Caruso

One station at the Boathouse educated children on sea birds in Maine and allowed them to look at organisms under a microscope, while informing them about the type of life that is in the bay.

Belfast Community Outreach Program in Education students shared what they caught during a school-year-long project in which they collected scallop larvae with spat bags in the bay. The high schoolers helped educate the fifth graders about their findings.

At another station, a touch tank gave students the opportunity to hold organisms caught during the event by a local diver from the diving group Midcoast Aquanuts. There also were two Belfast Area High School students showing the kids what was caught at the beach next to the town dock.

A station was set up on the town dock where high school students showed the elementary kids the school’s remotely operated underwater vehicle, which has a camera attached so students could view the bay from underwater.

Elementary students gather around Belfast Area High School junior Paige Rollerson, 17, while she shows students what Belfast Bay looks like from the school’s underwater ROV during the district’s World Ocean Day event May 25. Photo by Kendra Caruso

There were also high schoolers using a plankton tow to collect plankton and other things floating in Belfast Bay to show to the elementary students. Several small jellyfish were floating in the bay that day, which the students got to see. The high schoolers were also teaching the children about different types of fishing and the accompanying state rules.

Ten to 15 high school students volunteered for the event and about 80 elementary school children attended the event, according to event coordinator Tish Manning, who is an extended learning program teacher at Ames Elementary School, Kermit Nickerson Elementary School and CASS.

For teachers who could not bring their students to the event, she prepared ideas about topics related to World Ocean Day.

The event originated in 2017, born out of a group Manning started at CASS called Beyond Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, she said. Now the group extends to Ames and Nickerson schools. In 2017, the group launched a campaign asking that CASS stop using plastic straws.

In 2018, students called for an end to using plastic straws and cutlery at CASS because they do not break down in the environment and end up in the ocean. “We really got excited about changing our behavior to help animals in the ocean,” Manning said.

There are several ecology clubs in the district that are focused on the environment, from the elementary school to the high school. The high school is even launching a marine institute that focuses curriculum around the marine environment.

Belfast High School juniors Savannah Springer and Brynne Sawyer, both 17, take the advanced placement environmental science class, and they both volunteered at the event to help teach kids about the ocean environment.

The kids enjoyed looking at all the creatures in the touch tank station, they said. Having a hands-on learning experience will help the students learn about the ocean, Sawyer said. Students got to touch lobsters, starfish, barnacles and more. “That’s the way they’ll really, like, pick it up,” she said.

Springer said coves like Belfast Bay are some of the most productive ecosystems. The lobsters were bought from a local store but everything else in their tank came directly from bay. All the creatures were returned to the water after the event, including the lobsters.

Belfast High School junior Paige Rollerson, 17, also volunteered at the event. She takes a marine studies class, and showed the elementary students what the bay looks like from underwater with the high school’s ROV. Though there was not much to see during the event, some jellyfish swam by the device.

Other volunteers from the community participated in the event, and Maine Audubon let the district use some of its Maine ocean bird decoys.

Last year was the first year the celebration was held on the waterfront, Manning said. That event was smaller, where the stations were focused just around the docks. This year only students from CASS attended, but Manning hopes to have all Regional School Unit 71 fifth graders participate next year.

Manning tries to teach students that their actions on land have an impact on the health of the ocean and that they have the power to create change, she said. By hosting the World Ocean Day event for the children, it helps instill an appreciation for the ocean. “Kids have been really engaged and it’s been a beautiful celebration,” she said.