Dottie Yunger: Director of DMR’s Education Division

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How did you spend your summer vacation? Unfortunately, I know you didn’t spend it at the Maine State Aquarium because it wasn’t open. When I started as the new Director of the Education Division about a year ago, the Department of Marine Resources began preparing for the building to reopen after two years of closure due to the pandemic. In the process, we discovered, unsurprisingly, some construction issues that need to be addressed, especially since it’s nearly 30 years old. We explored all our options to be completely sure that it was not possible to reopen for the 2022 season, ultimately making the difficult decision that we could not. You can read our public statement here https://www.maine.gov/dmr/programs/education-division

To introduce myself, my name is Dottie Yunger, and as Director of DMR’s Education Division, I manage the Maine State Aquarium, Learning Lab, and Burnt Island with its lighthouse and education center. The Learning Lab is adjacent to the aquarium and serves as a hands-on interactive lab for individual groups. I’m a marine biologist and environmental educator, and have worked for the Smithsonian Institution, the National Aquarium, Discovery Channel, and most recently the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons, MD. At the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, I worked in an ecosystem modeling research lab, where we recreated large-scale ecosystems with their living and non-living components. The Gulf of Maine ecosystem was one of them, with its tides, waves, mudflats and intertidal zones. It eventually became a public exhibit in the museum’s Sea Life Hall, and I managed aquarium operations and educational programming for the entire exhibit. So now living and working in the Gulf of Maine is a very exciting opportunity for me.

The Maine State Aquarium spent the summer preparing for its extreme makeover. We removed the large lobster and shark tanks, as well as the touch tank, so that we could start installing new water resistant and non-slip flooring. When we removed these tanks, we found extensive water damage (again, unsurprisingly) to the floor and walls behind the tanks. Behind the walls we found electrical wiring that needed updating. If you’ve ever remodeled an old home, you know exactly what we’re talking about. All of this became an opportunity for us to reshape the space in a way that would extend the life of the building for years to come.

These renovations will continue throughout the winter. Animals exposed before 2020 were sent to new homes; there is not even water in the aquariums at present! We do, however, have our new wet lab, where harbor water passes through a series of filters before collecting in a large reservoir. From there it is pumped to various holding tanks and will eventually be pumped to the aquarium tanks as well. This wet laboratory allows us to start collecting now for the animals that will become residents of the aquarium. This is also where our lobster researchers study lobster larvae and how temperature influences where they choose to move and live.

https://www.maine.gov/dmr/science/species-information/maine-lobster/lobster-life-stages-and-dmr-surveys/larval-lobster-surveys

https://www.newscentermaine.com/article/news/local/researchers-study-temperature-impacts-on-lobster-larvae-environment-science/97-4f9bea76-8acc-4687-ae26-8c8b22beba9c

The Department of Marine Resources has an update website; you can follow the Education Division there and on social media, where we will post regular updates on our renovations. You can find the links to our social media on our webpage https://www.maine.gov/dmr/programs/education-division

Best fish!

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