September will mark over four hundred years since Samuel de Champlain lead an expedition that landed at Frenchman’s Bay near what is the modern day home to Acadia National Park. Champlain would have no way of knowing at the time that the unique land formations that he observed and named for their barren terrain would be so important to the scientific community. Beyond the near 3 million visitors who flock to the park each year to absorb its natural splendor, Acadia National Park is also an attraction to scientists looking to observe its diverse ecosystems and take advantage of a compelling natural laboratory to study environmental change.
At the forefront of much of this research is the Schoodic Institute, advancing ecosystem science and learning for all ages through its unique partnership with Acadia National Park. The Institute develops research partnerships and attracts research that advances our understanding of biodiversity and freshwater and ocean ecology, all in a context of rapid environmental change.
The institute’s President & CEO, Mark Berry, who has been with the organization since 2014 oversees all aspects of the Institute’s science, education, and research programs and management of the Schoodic Education.
“Acadia National Park is important not just because of the natural and cultural resources within the park, but also because, as a National Park, it presents an outstanding opportunity to connect people with the beauty and importance of the natural world, and the beauty and importance of science as a process and a way of thinking.”
With diverse ecosystems in a broad transition zone between the northern and temperate forests, at the edge of the North Atlantic, Acadia National Park allows scientists to further their research in ways that inform scientific responses throughout Maine and beyond.
“Acadia’s founders wanted to preserve its outstanding scenic, biological, and cultural values – not just for recreation, but also for their scientific interest, and to inspire conservation elsewhere. The park clearly has contributed substantially to inspiring conservation throughout Maine and far beyond – sometimes in ways that may be difficult to trace back to the childhood experiences of visitors who go on to understand the importance of the natural world.”
To that end the Schoodic Institute maintains a close partnership with the National Park in pursuit of its mission, and as a nonprofit, the Institute can bring resources from private philanthropy – or other agencies – along with maintaining a more nimble, creative structure. The Institute manages the Schoodic Education and Research Center as one of 18 National Park Service “Research Learning Centers” across the nation. As a partner of the 2016 Maine Science Festival, the institute and Berry participated in a panel to specifically highlight science & research initiatives taking place within Acadia National Park, the kind of message that Berry and his associates are working hard to get out into the public view.
“We develop learning opportunities and partnerships ranging from multi-day experiences in the park for elementary and middle school students from across Maine, to professional learning opportunities for teachers, to community programs. Often, our focus is on the connections between advancing science and learning – such as engaging the public in science, and connecting science to conservation actions.”
A great example of this in the Institute’s support of Citizen Science, or public participation in science, a rapidly growing arena of work, already contributing to advancing research and providing outstanding educational experiences. The Citizen Science Association (CSA) is an emerging group that has already attracted thousands of members who recognize the opportunities presented by collaboration and shared learning in the field of citizen science. According to Berry, this work has far greater potential, and increasing public engagement with science could contribute to improving science literacy and appreciation for the scientific process, with broad benefit to society.
“Thanks in large part to our close partnership with Acadia National Park, but also due to our skilled staff, Schoodic Institute was well-positioned to help launch the Citizen Science Association by serving as its fiscal agent. We’ve helped get the Association started, and look forward to a continuing partnership.”
In 2015, the CSA held its inaugural conference in San Jose, CA. The event was two days of building connections and exchanging ideas across a wide spectrum of disciplines and experiences. Attended by over 650 participants from 23 countries, the conference was widely viewed as a remarkable success, tackling topics to broaden engagement and establish best practices for designing, implementing and managing CSA projects and programs.
To learn more about the The Schoodic Institute visit schoodicinstitute.org