Shoals Marine Laboratory

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Shoals Marine Laboratory
SML Logo
Founded 1966
Founder Dr. John M. Kingsbury
Type Marine education
Focus College undergraduates, marine research
Mission Dedicated to undergraduate education and research in marine science since 1966.

Coordinates: 42°59′21″N 70°36′54″W / 42.98917°N 70.61500°W / 42.98917; -70.61500

Shoals Marine Laboratory (SML) is a seasonal marine field station located on Appledore Island, Maine. Appledore Island is the largest of the Isles of Shoals archipelago, a group of rocky islands just offshore of the border between Maine and New Hampshire. The laboratory is cooperatively operated and maintained by Cornell University and the University of New Hampshire. Shoals is a residential facility where participants and staff all live together in a close-knit learning community. SML's academic program runs from May through August to accommodate off-campus study for undergraduates. Limited access for research can be arranged during the off-season.[1] Access to Appledore Island is provided by Shoals Marine Laboratory vessels operated by laboratory personnel. SML administrative offices are at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, New Hampshire.


Students collecting specimens in the intertidal zone at Appledore Island

SML is dedicated to undergraduate education and research in marine science, and has been offering courses since 1966. The laboratory offers a wide variety of summer credit courses for undergraduates and high school students along with programs and workshops for graduate students, teachers, professionals, and the general public.[2][3] All Shoals programs provide participants with the opportunity to become immersed in the world of marine science under the tutelage of an academic teaching staff from Cornell, UNH, and other leading academic institutions.[4]

An academic day at Shoals consists of laboratory and classroom time, combined with extensive fieldwork. Fieldwork typically includes excursions along Appledore's rocky intertidal zone and seabird nesting colonies, visits to neighboring islands to study harbor seals, terns, and archaeological sites, off-shore cruises, and trips to the Maine/New Hampshire coast to study mud flats, salt marshes, and bogs. Lessons on sustainable living are incorporated into the experience. Credit course offerings range from survey courses like Field Marine Science to more specialized courses like Field Ornithology, Underwater Research, and Ecology of Animal Behavior.[5] Other programs, workshops, and citizen science opportunities include Biological Illustration, a course about Forensic Science, and Island Archaeology.


The Herring Gull, a common inhabitant of SML. The lab's wind turbine is in the background.

Emphasizing its dedication to undergraduate research, the lab has a program called Research Internships in Field Science (RIFS). This program is the successor to the Research Experience for Undergraduates program which was funded by a seven year National Science Foundation grant. The RIFS program allows undergraduates to perform a full research project - from proposal to research paper and presentation - in the course of a summer. It also provides participants with coverage of room and board.

Several classes work on small research projects, often involving a proposal and initial research. Students in the underwater research course, for example, spend time becoming AAUS researchers while performing research on a subtidal organism of their choice. Students in the introductory field marine science course contribute to the yearly transect study conducted around the island.

The lab also hosts and works with visiting researchers from across the country, including the UNH-AIRMAP air monitoring group, NOAA, ICARTT, a migratory bird banding program, the New Hampshire Fish and Game tern restoration project on White Island, gull research with Dr. Julie Ellis, and honey bee research with Dr. Tom Seeley.[6]


SML, looking south towards academic buildings

Appledore Island, originally named Hog Island, was visited by Scandinavians sailing from Greenland before the 17th century. Europeans arrived in 1614 to take advantage of the favorable fishing conditions in the Gulf of Maine. The island saw an exodus in 1680 and sustained a small population until 1847. Thomas Laighton and daughter Celia Thaxter helped to revitalize the island through Celia's hospitality, artistry, and garden. The garden has been restored as a tourist attraction today which helps generate revenue for SML. Celia's death in 1894, subdivision of land in 1908, and a major fire at the Appledore Hotel in September 1914 led to the decline of this era in Appledore history. UNH's Marine Zoological Laboratory on Appledore thrived from 1928 to 1940. This was followed by government control of the island during World War II and a period of vandalism into the 1970s.

The current form of the lab was conceived by Dr. John M. Kingsbury, a professor at Cornell. Having visited the Star Island conference center, he was keen to bring undergraduate university students out to the Isles of Shoals as an alternative to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The first group of students arrived on Star Island in 1966. Appledore Island, which was mostly uninhabited since World War II, was selected and developed from the late 1960s to early 1970s as the future home of the lab. UNH took interest in the project due to their proximity and previous association with the island. Dominic Gratta of Kittery, Maine directed his crew, assisted by students and early SML staff, in the refurbishing of old hotel and military era buildings as well as the construction of six new buildings and utility services.

Utility access[edit]

The lab's location on Appledore Island makes access to public utilities difficult. However, several strategies are employed to provide an experience similar to mainland living.


Propane for hot water and cooking is shipped out to the island on the lab's boats in 100 pound canisters. Gasoline for island vehicles and light equipment is also shipped out on the boats. Diesel fuel for generators and heavy equipment is provided on a yearly basis by barge.

Interns installing solar panels on a dorm at Shoals Marine Lab.


The lab's generators use 35 gallons of diesel a day based on 2009 reports, supporting a base load of 30 kilowatts. 70 gallons of diesel a day are consumed when the lab's reverse osmosis water system is running. Conservation efforts and green energy - a 7.5 kilowatt Burgee turbine and a solar panel array - have allowed the purchase and installation of a smaller 27 kW diesel generator. This smaller generator can often provide necessary power instead of the 65-kilowatt generator alternative. Electrical utilities are delivered throughout the island by in ground or above ground shielded cables carrying primarily AC 60 Hz power. The lab plans to install more solar panels and continue conservation efforts in the near future.[7]


Shoals currently uses a 5.8 GHz wireless link which provides a connection from a New Castle, NH base station to the WWII radio tower on the island. Internet access is distributed to the buildings via a fiber, ethernet, and wireless network. Island staff carry VHF radios for inter-island communication and cell phones for mainland phone calls. Vonage is used for more formal office phone and fax needs. VHF channel 80A is monitored for boat to island communication.

Disposal services

Waste is sorted at every collection point into compost, trash, and recycling. Trash and recycling are carried off the island weekly; trash is disposed of by contractors and recycling is brought to a recycling center. Compost is moved to composting bins on the northern side of the island where it is allowed to decompose over the winter.


Sewage is treated with a subsurface leach field and Clivus Multrum composting toilet installations. Eljen In-Drain technology is used in order to decrease the size of the leach field as gravel must be imported to the island by barge.[8] The success of the Clivus installation has opened the way for more composting toilet installations. No sewage is pumped into the ocean, although a chlorine and sodium bisulfite sanitizing treatment was used to accomplish this in the past.

Fresh water

Water is obtained from a 20 foot well on the north side of the island. This supply can serve the island during peak times only if sufficient rain falls during the summer. A reverse osmosis backup system provides fresh water if available well water does not meet demand.

Research vessels[edit]

The lab is serviced by two research vessels: the 47', 34.49 gross ton R/V John M. Kingsbury and the 35.7', 13 gross ton R/V John B. Heiser.[9] Both boats are actively used in transport of goods and people to the island as well as for research projects. The R/V John M. Kingsbury has a winch and a one ton crane for the deployment of research equipment and for the movement of heavy materials from the mainland to the island. The lab also operates various smaller vessels, such as zodiacs, small power boats, and a 19' Cape Dory Typhoon sailboat.


  1. ^ "Research - Shoals Marine Lab". Retrieved 2010-01-17. 
  2. ^ "Students- Credit Courses". Retrieved 2010-01-06. 
  3. ^ "Public Education - Welcome". Retrieved 2010-01-17. 
  4. ^ "Meet the Faculty - Shoals Marine Laboratory". Retrieved 2010-01-17. 
  5. ^ "Students - Credit Courses". Retrieved 2010-01-17. 
  6. ^ "Research - Visiting Researchers". Retrieved 2010-01-06. 
  7. ^ "Shoals Marine Lab keeps getting greener". Retrieved 2010-01-06. 
  8. ^ "An Overview of the Eljen GSF Geotextile Sand Filter". Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  9. ^ "Welcome - R/V John M. Kingsbury". Retrieved 2010-01-01. 

Additional reading[edit]

  • Shoals Marine Laboratory: Visitor's Guide to Appledore Island
  • Appledore Times, Shoals Marine Laboratory, Winter 2004, Vol. 3, No. 1
  • The Shoals Marine Laboratory, ©1999 by Cornell University

External links[edit]