Did someone say, “Blue Lobster?” If you know a single detail about marine life, it may be the fact that lobsters are reddish-brown in the water and an exciting, even alarming, shade of red on your dinner plate. But the high school students participating in the 15th annual Blue Lobster Bowl are sure to know a more obscure fact about lobsters — that there is a genetic mutation causing an estimated one in every 2 to 5 million lobsters to turn out blue. This is the kind of ocean science fact (don’t call it trivia!) that high-schoolers across the country, who take part in 25 regional National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB) competitions each year, commit to memory.
“But they’re not just memorizing facts,” Blue Lobster Bowl coordinator Rachel VanCott is quick to point out. “The Blue Lobster Bowl gives students a reason to study marine science. They’re learning to problem-solve, and how to work as a team.” Competition questions come in two forms: the rapid-fire buzzer rounds of multiple choice and short answer, and more in-depth team challenge questions that give students an opportunity to work as a team and apply critical thinking skills to questions involving real-time data, cutting-edge research and policy issues.
This year, MIT Sea Grant will welcome 120 students from 12 Massachusetts high schools to the MIT campus to participate in the daylong Blue Lobster Bowl competition on Feb. 4. The event takes place from 7:30 a.m. (first tournament round starts at 9 a.m.) and finishes before 5 p.m. All competition events take place in MIT Buildings 26, 16 and 56 and are free and open to the public.
Since the beginning of the school year, students around the state have been forming competition teams and working with their coaches to prepare for this big day. Competition questions cover a broad range of topics including marine biology, chemistry, geology, physics, navigation, geography and related ocean history, literature and public policy. That may sound like a head-spinning number of study topics, but many competitors and coaches enjoy the preparation as much as the final competition. “Blue Lobster Bowl practices are often the highlight of my week!” says veteran Blue Lobster Bowl coach and teacher Sarah Damassa from Lexington High School.
Damassa, who has watched members of her ocean bowl teams go on to study marine science at the university level, further describes her enthusiasm for the program, saying, “Our Blue Lobster Bowl team combines intense studying and learning with lively camaraderie and team spirit. The students thoroughly enjoy practices, having fun even while working to build their oceanographic knowledge base. I have been fortunate to work with extremely talented students, who organize and run their own practices, mentor new students and support each other’s growth as NOSB competitors.”
While the competition all takes place during one intense day, the program volunteers and coordinator work to increase ocean literacy year-round, and cultivate a growing community of teachers, students and coaches in Massachusetts who care about marine science. VanCott notes, “This year, I reached out to NOSB alums, and found some local students and scientists who were willing to go and visit teams and schools, and talk to them about careers in marine sciences. We're working to make the Blue Lobster Bowl a great, yearlong experience for all the teams.”
The winning team will advance to compete against 24 other regional champions in the National Ocean Science Bowl in Baltimore. In addition to the opportunity to travel to the National Finals, teams vie for prizes that include money for study materials and educational trips. And, thanks to funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, participating students are eligible to apply for the Coastal and Ocean Science Training internship program, a four-week summer program in Olympic National Park, and the National Ocean Scholar Program, a two-year, $6,000 scholarship for students studying marine and coastal sciences.Blue Lobster Bowl participants are also eligible to apply for summer internships at the MIT Sea Grant College Program.
The Blue Lobster Bowl is organized by VanCott, educator and ocean science literacy communicator for the MIT Sea Grant College Program. She is assisted at the event by a battery of more than 50 volunteers including volunteers from People Making a Difference; staff from MIT Sea Grant; students from MIT, Northeastern University, Boston University, Harvard University, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Tufts University; as well as many NOSB alumni.
The NOSB was created by the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, representing leading oceanographic institutions universities and aquaria, in 1998 in honor of the International Year of the Ocean. Each year, approximately 2,000 students from 300 schools across the nation compete. Among the goals of the NOSB are increasing high school students’ knowledge of the oceans, enhancing public understanding and stewardship of the oceans, and opening students’ eyes to ocean-related career options.