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Students excited to return to Kent Island, New Brunswick, Canada after COVID-19 Hiatus

October 1, 2021

Ian Kyle
Look out: Ecology students set their sights on nature and a return to normalcy on their first trip back to Kent Island.

Cancelled for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the long-awaited field excursion to Bowdoin’s field station on Kent Island in New Brunswick, Canada, finally took place last weekend.

Since the recent readmission of American citizens across the Canadian border on August 9, 2021, 16 Bowdoin students taking Ecology and Biology of Marine Organisms this semester were able to cross the border and participate in the Kent Island trip, led by Ian Kyle, assistant director of the Bowdoin College Scientific Station on Kent Island, and Patricia Jones, assistant professor of Biology and director of the Bowdoin College Scientific Station on Kent Island.

Compared to past trips, Jones believes that the journey to Kent Island had more logistical complications due to COVID-19. The Canadian border requires all American visitors to provide PCR test results within 72 hours of traveling and upload their passport and vaccination information onto the Arrive Canada app.

According to Jones, the research station on Kent Island had remained mostly closed for the past two years. Due to the closing of the Canadian border, Bowdoin could only facilitate field work with Canadian researchers at the station. Since only a few researchers remained at the station, they were able to maintain social distancing and minimize opportunities for COVID-19 transmission.

In terms of research, the pandemic had also resulted in the first missing data in a long-term dataset on seabirds since the 1950s. Every year, Bowdoin students in the summer fellowship program have traveled to Kent Island to collect field data. This program had run consistently with the exception of one year during World War II, and, now, with the exception of 2020 and 2021.

“We were able to get some colleagues through with the Canadian wildlife service to collect some data for us when they were able to go out this summer because they are New Brunswick residents and could go to Kent island,” Jones said. “But it’s different. The quality of data is different because they would just go for a couple days rather than being there all summer and monitoring. So that impact was huge.”

Jones has also been working with the Bowdoin Outing Club (BOC) to organize a trip to Kent Island during fall break that would be open to the entire student body.

“The details are still being ironed out. But it’s going to be myself and a few other student leaders, taking a group of about 12 folks up there for fall break to get to enjoy the island,” said Brianna Cunliffe ’22, who spent eight weeks on Kent Island during the 2019 summer fellowship program. “It’s a whole logistical venture because you have to cross the border into Canada and then take a ferry and then take a lobster boat, but the island is stunning in fall.”

For Cunliffe, the trip to Kent Island was more than just a scientific excursion—its unique location served as an escape. She believes that its isolated location fostered community and friendship, and in place of cellphone service and modern conveniences, the island offered its stunning natural beauty.

“It’s a real disconnect from the ways in which we’re accustomed to being in the world,” Cunliffe said. “And yet, at the same time, at least in my experience, you were much more connected with natural cycles and rhythms, with the people around you, and with yourself. And I think that is a really, really valuable thing, particularly in the lives that we all live.”

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