Student Led Community Science Program to Support Shellfish Management

Sarah Risley a University of Maine graduate student based at the Darling Marine Center will lead a team of undergraduate and high school students to record the number, type and size of shellfish species at several sites along the upper Damariscotta River and document local knowledge of the estuary held by fishermen and other local residents. Together, this information will be used to estimate the number of shellfish on the flats and help inform future management by the shellfish committee in coordination with the state’s Department of Marine Resources.

A student in the UMaine School of Marine Sciences, Risley shared plans for the new community science research program focused on the Damariscotta River estuary at the Damariscotta-Newcastle Joint Shellfish Committee’s April meeting at the Damariscotta Town Office.

The program will provide important information on the estuary’s ecology and the diversity of commercial and recreational activities in the river. Questions raised by shellfish harvesters and others active in the estuary inspired the new program.

“We will work as a team of local scientists, students, educators, harvesters and municipal leaders to collect information on shellfish and document how the estuary is changing,” Risley explained.

During the Committee meeting Risley invited input from the shellfish harvesters and other committee members on the best sites to monitor this summer specifically to gather baseline data on estuary health and shellfish resources.

One of the primary goals for this summer is to assess the availability of shellfish larvae (also called spat) to seed populations in the upper part of the estuary. This area encompasses the majority of clam flats managed jointly by the two towns and also has been identified by harvesters and other local experts as a place where significant changes in shellfish abundance and distribution have occurred over the last two decades.

To learn about the shellfish species in the Damariscotta, the type and number of each species will be counted by capturing them in wooden frames, called recruitment boxes. This spring recruitment boxes will be placed at three sites in the upper river.

This community science project connects with multiple courses taught at Lincoln Academy, as well as university courses and research projects at the Darling Marine Center. Students will collect the boxes to count the young clams and other organisms inside the boxes this fall and later report their findings to the shellfish committee.

“We are excited about this opportunity for Lincoln Academy students to contribute to local stewardship and gain hands-on experience in marine science and civic engagement,” said Kelley Duffy, Lincoln Academy Director of Curriculum, and a key collaborator on the      project.

The choice of monitoring sites was informed by a participatory mapping study that Risley and fellow UMaine graduate student Melissa Britsch conducted with harvesters, shellfish farmers, and other local experts over the last year.

Funding for this program is provided by local donors to the Darling Marine Center, a grant from the Broad Reach Fund to the Town of Damariscotta and a second grant to the Darling Marine Center, Joint Shellfish Committee and Lincoln Academy, from the University of Maine Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions.

To learn more about this project, including how you can get involved, please contact Risley at the Darling Marine Center, via

Founded in 1965, the Darling Marine Center’s mission is to connect people to the ocean. The Center’s researchers, staff and students work alongside fishermen, aquaculture entrepreneurs, marine industry professionals and other members of the community in Maine and around the world. More information is available at

Lincoln Academy is an independent Town Academy in Newcastle that serves high school students from 16 towns in midcoast Maine as well as domestic and international boarding students. More information is available at