Yesterday’s competitor, tomorrow’s volunteer
Participating in National Ocean Science Bowls across coasts

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Like many students, Lindsey Nelson recalls going to the beach during spring break in high school. But unlike her fellow beachgoers, Nelson used her oceanside time to read up on fish anatomy and the names of different tides.
She was preparing for the Orca Bowl, an ocean science-themed quiz competition for high school students in Washington, that would be held just a few days after she got back. The event was one of 25 National Ocean Science Bowls taking place across the nation. NOSB is designed to give high schoolers an opportunity to immerse themselves in ocean science. Nelson decided to participate in the quiz through her high school science club after she became interested in fish biology.
“I wouldn’t say we made it very far in the competition, but it doesn’t matter,” Nelson said. “It was really cool.”

Fast forward 11 years, and Nelson would again participate in a NOSB competition: this time, as a graduate student volunteering at the Blue Crab Bowl at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS). This year, the 22nd annual Blue Crab Bowl brought together about 200 participants and volunteers.
Volunteers don’t just keep score, ask questions, and monitor the clock. They also have opportunities to share their own experiences as ocean scientists. During breaks in the competition, students can chat with volunteers about individual research topics ranging from corals to barrier islands to microplastics.

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"The students get to hear about the variety of research topics in marine science, and we get to connect and share our enthusiasm.”

In Nelson’s case, she introduced her research about clearnose skates. As a graduate student and Virginia Sea Grant supported student, Nelson is studying the variety of skate populations that span coasts all the way from New Jersey to the Gulf of Mexico.

“It’s beneficial for both parties,” Nelson said. “The students get to hear about the variety of research topics in marine science, and we get to connect and share our enthusiasm.”

Nelson also returned to her high school two years ago to connect with students currently in her high school science club. There, she shared her experience as a NOAA fisheries observer in Alaska, where she rode along on commercial fishing vessels to monitor caught fish.

She plans to volunteer in next year’s Blue Crab Bowl, but also will share her graduate experience with her hometown ocean science bowl team once she wraps up her research.

“I can kind of tell them, ‘This is what I worked on, this is what grad school’s like,’ and try to encourage them to do it too,” Nelson said.

Written by Madeleine Jepsen | Virginia Sea Grant

Photos and Video by Aileen Devlin | Virginia Sea Grant

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This year’s Blue Crab Bowl, the 22nd annual competition, brought together about 200 participants and volunteers.