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October 26, 2012

Maritime Gloucester finds its niche

Maritime Gloucester settles into new roles

The red and white pinky schooner Ardelle leaves the pier behind Maritime Gloucester frequently with a group of elementary students aboard.

They head into the harbor, learning to take water samples, assess water quality, and spot native birds.

The Ardelle serves as Maritime Gloucester’s sail-powered research vessel and takes groups, from elementary students to undergraduates at Endicott College, out to study the harbor. The schooner, built and captained by Essex boat builder Harold Burnham is decked out with research equipment.

Maritime Gloucester, said Mary Kay Taylor, who heads the nonprofit’s educational programs, bases how it teaches marine science on Gloucester’s marine and fishing history. But the Ardelle also sits, says director Tom Balf, between Gloucester’s past, present, and future.

“Whether a kid wants to be a fisherman, a boat builder or a marine scientist, those worlds are open to them here,” said Balf.

Now a year into its reincarnation from the former Gloucester Maritime Heritage Center, Maritime Gloucester is an eclectic mix of museum, classroom, woodshop and laboratory.

On any given day, gig-rowing crews pound through the harbor, students in the COMPASS alternative high-school program work in the boat shop and visitors identify plankton through a microscope.

Maritime Gloucester essentially closes to the public at the end of this weekend, after opening for the season in May. While the center’s physical museum and aquarium won’t be open, staff will still be presenting their programs in schools, and the center will host several events though the winter months.

Through the end of November, students from the city elementary schools are also visiting the center for marine science classes. They have six sessions with Maritime Gloucester. Students, many of whom rush about excitedly and eagerly call out the answers to questions posed by the staff, learn everything from dissecting a squid and closely examining the insides of pollack, to studying animal and plant plankton, to learning about shipwrecks.

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