Oyster Girls – Up to their Elbows in Science

Oyster Girls – Up to their Elbows in Science
Girls shake the oyster bags to encourage the oysters to grow in a cupped shape.
girls in the water shaking oyster bags

Girls shake the oyster bags to encourage the oysters to grow in a cupped shape.

Knee deep in a shallow cove of the Damariscotta River Estuary, with smears of marsh mud on cheeks and arms, a half dozen girls grasp large oyster bags and shake them roughly. “This banging around causes the oysters to grow into more of a cup shape,” their counselor explains. “Keep shaking!”

Oyster agitation accomplished, the girls next replace a damaged oyster bag and use brushes to scrape mud and algae from the others, while their counselor tells them all about the anatomy, life cycle and growing process of this prized food source. Oysters are the theme this week at DRA’s Camp Mummichog, and this special session is for girls only.

Jaiya Valentin-Chase, age nine, is not ready to leave the shore when it’s time for lunch. “Can’t I stay down here and keep working?”

Her enthusiasm gives us reason for hope: historically, girls have been much less likely than boys to pursue a career in math or the sciences. This girls-only camp session is part of a nationwide movement to address this disparity.

According to the US Office of Science and Technology, women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields earn 33% more than women in non-STEM jobs, and experience a smaller wage gap relative to their male peers. Moreover, they are offered “the opportunity to engage in some of the most exciting realms of discovery and technological innovation.”

girls in the lab checking their experiments

Campers check on their test subjects in the lab.

The excitement is certainly real in the research lab here at DRA, where the campers learned about the scientific method and have been set loose with their questions and enthusiasm. Leaning over their oyster test subjects, taking notes, and taking turns peering into a microscope, they design experiment after experiment.

How long can an oyster survive in soapy water? Results are inconclusive: the test subject is still alive.

How long will an oyster survive in water with salt and vinegar added? Hardy creatures, oysters – this subject is still alive as well.

Do oysters have blood? “Actually, they do!” exclaims Valentin-Chase, her brown eyes sparkling as she brushes a long dark braid over her shoulder. “But it’s clear, that’s why we couldn’t see it with the microscope.”

Celebrating its 10th year this summer, Camp Mummichog has one guiding principle: “to foster an appreciation for and love of nature by inviting the campers to explore the world around them through hands-on, outdoor, experiential learning. In so doing we hope to inspire the young people of today to become environmentally responsible and conscientious citizens of tomorrow, to spark a lifelong love of learning, and to forge a deep and abiding connection with the natural world.”

Clearly not your average day camp. It’s not a stretch to believe that such an experience in a safe and nurturing environment, where they are encouraged to explore their own interests, ask lots of questions, and get really dirty, may have a profound impact on the Oyster Girls.

campers presenting results in the lab

Jaiya Valentin-Chase (top right) and her lab partners present the results of their experiment to other campers.