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Shoals Marine Lab courses are also for families, high school students and adults

The snow has barely cleared from Cornell's Ithaca campus, but staff at the College of Agriculture and Life Science's Shoals Marine Laboratory are already preparing for summer on Maine's Appledore Island.

The end of May will herald the beginning of courses and workshops on the secluded, self-sufficient 95-acre island six miles offshore from the Maine/New Hampshire border.

Each year, some 150-200 students of all ages get fully immersed in the island's living laboratory environment, and this year they will have a completely redesigned curriculum from which to choose.

Kids Ahoy! and Ship Mates courses in July cater to families with young children. High school students can spend a week on Appledore and a week at sea aboard Sea Education Association's SSV Corwith Cramer as part of the "Oceanography of the Gulf of Maine" course; it's one of several programs for high school students that award three Cornell credits.

Bird lovers and archaeology buffs can participate in noncredit adult education programs during the spring and summer on Appledore; the lab even offers a course called Field Wildlife Forensics, which combines marine biology, entomology and the law, and features crime scene investigation and mock trials.

For undergraduates enrolled at Cornell, the University of New Hampshire or other institutions, courses like Ecology and the Marine Environment can help fulfill life sciences major and graduation requirements.

"We are rooted in science, but we spread ourselves pretty wide as far as subject matter," said instructor Ian Hewson, Cornell professor of microbiology. "Especially for the younger students, it can be a tremendously transformative experience. They get their hands wet, which is the heart of the experience at Shoals."

The Shoals curriculum has been streamlined, according to Hewson. Longer courses have been broken up into shorter segments to offer more diversity and flexibility for students, he said. The credits system is more standardized and transparent, and those who want to take more than one course can do so more easily, due to new scheduling that allows for seamless transitions.

The new options seem to be appealing: Enrollment figures are double from what they were at the same time last year.

A renewed focus on sustainability is also woven throughout -- both within the curriculum and the way of life on the island. New course offerings include Sustainable Marine Fisheries and a beefed-up Sustainable Engineering Internship program. A new water conservation building completed in November will eliminate the need for 40 percent of the water formerly used for sanitation.

Funded by the Biological Field Stations and Marine Laboratories Program at the National Science Foundation, the $165,000 project also includes a rooftop solar heating system to provide a steady supply of hot water for kitchen and showers.

Comprehensive composting practices are also in place across the island as part of an effort led by Ross Hansen, assistant director for island and coastal operations, whose ultimate goal is to transform the lab's operation from a 10,000 gallon diesel-generator power grid to a green grid powered by solar panels and an 80-foot wind turbine.

In Ithaca, Shoals Marine Lab started the new year with a new base, moving from Stimson Hall, its home since 1979, to Kennedy Hall, next to the David L. Call Alumni Auditorium. It celebrated the change with an open house Feb. 11. A dedication ceremony for the new water conservation building on Appledore is being planned for the summer.

Stacey Shackford is a staff writer at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

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