Exploring the Marine Education Center
By Marina Kiriakou -
Nestled within the coastal haven of Harbor Island Park lies a true gem celebrating the wonder of marine life – the Marine Education Center (MEC). This 450-square-foot structure is a hub of knowledge and exploration, featuring nine brackish aquariums, artifacts from the Sound, and learning stations that allow visitors to delve into the world of marine biology.
A Community-Driven Endeavor
Mamaroneck has a unique ecological landscape along the Long Island Sound. It is an estuary; a brackish water community where fresh water meets salt water. Otter Creek, located in Rye Neck, is one of the last remaining salt marshes in Westchester County. To honor the richness of this environment, environmental activist Katherine Desmond and her husband Jim founded a volunteer advisory board with the vision to create a marine education center for the community and to empower people to be environmental stewards. By 2015, they had the full support of the Village when the MEC became part of the Department of Parks and Recreation. Following a thorough search, the committee hired a full-time marine life specialist.
In 2022, to further support the Center's growth, Helen Rafferty and other members of the community launched a non-profit organization, the Friends of the Marine Education Center. Rafferty is the President. "We formed Friends so anyone can participate in the growth and evolution of MEC's mission," says Rafferty. "An example is patron-sponsored student visits or educator training programs. Such support can help kids from all backgrounds embark on a journey of discovery that will last a lifetime.”
Science and Leadership
At the helm of the MEC is marine biologist Kyle Troy, a passionate advocate for understanding the underwater world, who is dedicated to sharing her expertise and inspiring others to become stewards of the sea. By all accounts, she is a one-woman army, creating programming that gives hands-on access to nature. "I'm most alive doing my science," says Troy. "And sharing it is everything to me!" Her enthusiasm and commitment create a vibrant atmosphere at the MEC, where visitors of all ages embark on a journey of discovery. "At a fundamental level, marine life affects the nature of our planet. We can take cues from what's happening right at our shoreline."
Troy's background as a marine biologist reflects a diverse range of experiences both on land and at sea. She's ventured as far as the North Atlantic to study whales from an oil barge, served as an assistant ornithologist for a DEP-affiliated engineering company, working closely with waterfowl and eagles, and led as a head restoration biologist for the Mountain Restoration Land Trust in California. She speaks to the delicate balance of preservation among sea life, plants, and the responsibility as stewards of our fragile ecosystem.
The MEC offers a wide range of engaging activities and programs, catering to students, educators, and curious minds alike. Visitors have the unique opportunity to rethink the alien presence of horseshoe crabs and learn how they play an important ecological role in the food web for migrating shorebirds, finfish, and other species. A visitor to the Center might be lucky enough to catch a sea star ingesting a live clam into its stomach, which extrudes from its mouth long enough to envelop its meal.
The Center actively employs summer interns and part-time workers, providing valuable opportunities for young enthusiasts to immerse themselves in marine science and education. "It's a treat to have kids come back after they graduate wanting to work at the Center," says Troy. "In addition to deepening their appreciation of marine science, they are immediately thrust into the roles of educators, guiding field studies, tending to traps, seining for little fish, and nurturing the marine life within the aquariums."
Conservation and responsible stewardship of the environment are key pillars of the MEC's mission. Troy is passionate about teaching children the importance of reducing daily resource consumption, alongside recycling, and reusing. By instilling these values, the MEC aims to create a new generation of environmental advocates who will protect our precious marine ecosystems.
Understanding the delicate balance of the food chain is another critical aspect of the MEC's educational endeavors. Troy emphasizes the significance of predators within the ecosystem, teaching students that a healthy marine environment requires the presence of these vital species. The Center also educates visitors about the removal of invasive species, enabling native greens, grasses, and animals to thrive and maintain ecological harmony. "Our work to remove invasives from the shoreline resulted in the return of hundreds of fiddler crabs," says Troy. "These crabs burrow into the sediment of the marshes, creating a maze of tunnels that aerate (add oxygen to) the marsh grasses and underwater seagrass meadows."
Support the Friends of the MEC
Through its fundraising efforts, the Friends of the MEC provide financial support that enables the MEC to acquire the technology, equipment, and materials needed to develop a world class education program in our community. They partner with local businesses, institutions, and individuals to expand the MEC’s potential beyond the funds appropriated from the Village municipal budget. Donations are welcome.
Plan a Visit
MEC is open seven days a week from June through September and five days a week for the rest of the year.Admission is free, and all ages are welcome. To learn more about the MEC and support its mission, please visit their website HERE or reach out to them directly.