A small but enthusiastic party formed at the Pickled Wrinkle on Friday, August 11, to say goodbye to John Ayarik, the Shellfish Resilience Summer Advanced Degree intern.

After spending the summer in Gouldsboro helping get the new pump running, introducing this year’s batch of baby clams, and testing for baby green crabs, John is headed back to New Haven, CT, to continue his studies in the Environmental Sciences program at the University of New Haven. 

John said he particularly liked being in a small community for the summer and working with a small group of dedicated people. He also met and befriended interns at Schoodic Institute, where he gave a presentation in early August on his work.

A man standing in to the side of a screen with a slide presentation
John Ayarik reports on his work in the Gouldsboro Shellfish lab this summer

Bill thanked him for his contributions to the “next step” at the Shellfish Resilience Lab. John worked tirelessly with Mike Pinkham, Harbor Master, Shellfish Warden and Clam Lab Champion to install a new pump and piping system. John worked with Vicki to develop protocols for testing for green crabs megalopa–early stage Green Crabs.  John’s enthusiasm for the work and his willingness to try new things–he had never been in mud flats before!–made him a cheerful and knowledgeable member of the team. A more detailed explanation of his work can be found later in this article.

Two people stand in a well-lit restaurant. John, a man, wears a shirt made of clam fabric.
Pauline and John during John’s farewell party at the Pickled Wrinkle. John is wearing the clam shirt made by Pauline.

In addition to some of the Pickled Winkle’s tasty food and drink, the party included wind-up toy crabs and a pretty silly crab hat. John was presented with a shirt custom-made for him by Pauline. It featured our favorite clam design fabric and was modeled after a shirt that John had brought with him from Ghana. May he wear it in good health.

Previous to coming to the US to study, John earned his bachelor’s degree in marine science from the University of Ghana in West Africa and had his own aqua farm. We wish John all the best in his studies and in pursuing his career in environmental studies.

Part One of John’s Work: A New Pump in the lab

Much of John’s time this summer was spent creating a new pump system for the lab. This pump is stronger and more efficient, bringing in twice as much water for half the cost. A faster water flow will bring more nutrients to the tank and create a healthier environment for the clams to live in. Hopefully, this boost in nutrients will lead to a faster growth rate, allowing the clams to have a better chance at survival in the fall when they are put out into the mudflats.

Results from years past have led us to this new pump. The experiment began in 2021 with outdoor nursery trays. These clams had a great growth rate but poor survival stats due to the harbor’s green crab infestation. To combat this problem in 2022, we brought the clams inside to upwellers. Upwellers are five-gallon plastic buckets with mesh bottoms to allow for water flow. Clams growing in the lab had a much higher survival rate but lower growth rates due to inadequate water flow.

And so, the summer of 2023 brought the new pump, designed to overcome both low survival and growth rates. However, as with all things, it had its own challenges. The pump required an entirely new system of pipes going into the harbor, as well as weeks of experimentation to find the perfect flow rate (something that wouldn’t overflow the tank, but would carry enough water through it). Finally, by mid-July the pump was ready and new baby clams could move in.

Part Two: Megalopa Sampling

As major predators of clams, green crabs are one of Gouldsboro Shore’s top priorities. In an effort to better understand at what season they enter the water, John worked with volunteer Vicki Rea to develop a procedure for testing a harbor’s Megalopa population. Megalopa are green crabs at the larval stage and are about as small as the tip of a sharp pencil. When the crabs are at this point in their cycle, they float through the ocean with the aid of currents. As they grow, they sink toward the ocean floor and eventually settle permanently in an area on the ocean floor.

In 2021, crabs at the larval Megalopa stage got into the nursery trays. We weren’t looking for them, and the small size of the crab made them impossible to see. Upon finding a major food source, these lucky Megalopa hid in the trays and grew, feasting on the small clams. By the time we understood the problem, the now-big crabs had already made a large impact on the clam populations within the nursery trays. That’s why, in 2022, we moved the clams behind filters that were big enough to keep out the larval crabs. However, as previously mentioned, this method also resulted in insufficient nutrients for the clams.

While the past two years were filled with new and difficult problems, we also learned a lot. We now understand that clams grow best in the harbor, where they have access to all the nutrients they need. We also know crabs will enter the trays and consume the clams. But we don’t know when they do that. And so, the plan this summer was to figure out which month we first see clams in the water, for the eventual goal of discovering how long the clams can be kept outside.

Two people sit in a boat holding a net and spraying it with water.
Interns Ada and John perform Megalopa sampling in South Gouldsboro.

To test for Megalopa, we used a net with small mesh, as well as a small pump with different filters. The water samples collected are studied under microscopes at the lab. John developed procedures for how to use these tools and implemented them weekly. As of today, we still have not found megalopa.

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