Coast Day offers chance to learn, eat and play the coastal way

Next weekend, the University of Delaware will welcome thousands of people from far and wide to attend the 37th Annual Coast Day.

“Coast Day started as an open house for the College of Earth, Ocean & Environment,” said Teresa Messmore, communications specialist for the college. “We found that people in the community were curious about the research taking place there. It was just a great way to open our doors and welcome the public in to learn more about the research we do, as well the outreach that Delaware Sea Grant has.”

To be held this year on Oct. 6 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Coast Day is free and open to the public, with a theme of “Building Resilient Coastal Communities.”

“This year, we’re certainly still thinking and feeling the reverberations of Hurricane Sandy last year,” Messmore explained. “We do a lot of things to help inform the public and decision-makers in Delaware when we’re facing those kinds of coastal hazards. Whether it’s Sea Grant working with communities to prepare towns for changes that might be coming with more storms or more intense storms, to scientists that we have tracking storms and informing other decision-makers around the state.

“We’re certainly involved in the response and preparation to threats such as those. This theme is really about preparing and building up our communities so that we can deal with changes in the future.”

Keeping with the “building” theme, new this year is a special exhibit of ships made out of Lego blocks that will be on view in the campus’ Cannon Laboratory. Constructed by former ship designer William S. McKinley Jr., the TEACH FLEET (Technology’s Effects And Contributions Highlighted For Learning Ecological Environmental Topics) display is the largest collection of Lego ships in the world. The exhibit includes about 75 ship models of real-life seafaring vessels that span up to 6 feet in length, ranging from tugboats to modern aircraft carriers.

“I think that’s going to be something new and different that we haven’t done before. We’re excited to welcome them onboard and have people take a look of the largest fleet of Lego ships in the world.”

Messmore said it’s important for the college and Delaware Sea Grant to reach out to children, and get them interested in science.

“I think children have a natural curiosity about the environment, whether it’s going to the beach and looking at shells or going out on a boat and watching the waves roll by. They have a personal connection to the coastal environment. We hope to build on that interest and continue their curiosity.

“The things we have on Coast Day are designed to appeal to a variety of ages. We have lots of hands-on activities for children. Things like that can capture the interest of young people, but as children grow up, we have a lot of families come back each year. I think they get something different from coming each year.”

Through Coast Day, Messmore said the college and partner organizations also try to help better educate adults about coastal issues that may affect them.

“It has evolved to incorporate many of our partners that we work with throughout the year. It’s not just University of Delaware folks presenting information. We have a lot of community organizations and other groups who share information that’s relevant to the coast or natural resources and marine sciences.

“We share a lot of common interests with the people who live in the surrounding coastal communities. Whether we are looking at the health of wildlife in the environment or issues of flooding and coastal hazards, those are things that affect the everyday lives of people who live here. Our focus is to understand the science behind some of those changes and phenomena.

“We continue that education outreach to adults through public lectures at Coast Day and throughout the summer. We encourage people to continue exploring their interests in these coastal environments.”

Outside of educational events, attendees may also enjoy a variety of competitions, including an oyster-shucking contest, new this year.

“Coast Day has gotten bigger and better over the years. For example, the crabcake cook-off is has been around for over 25 years. It was an idea that Doris Hicks, our seafood specialist at Delaware Sea Grant, had. That’s a great way to put a spotlight on the seafood and some of the natural resources involved, as well as a healthy choice in your everyday diet.

But that’s not the end of the seafood-related events at Coast Day. In addition to the Seafood Chowder Challenge featuring creamy concoctions from professional chefs, oysters will be a star of the show.

“This year, she added the oyster-shucking contest. Contestants will be shucking a dozen oysters per round, on the clock, and will be judged on the quality of their work and the swiftness of their work.”

To help get people excited about the event, a multimedia contest is also being offered in which participants may submit a video they’ve made on a wide range of approaches to the topic — from how they believe coastal storms may impact their community, to what they are doing or what they believe can be done in Delaware to help deal with the effects of coastal storms, sea-level rise, flooding, and how they and their families can prepare for the next big storm. Makers of the top two videos will each receive a gift card valued at $100.

“We are encouraging Delawareans to make short videos, 30 seconds or less, and post them on several social media outlets. They’re supposed to tie into our theme of building. It’s the first time we’re doing it,” said Messmore, noting that participants may use the hashtag #DECoastDay on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to submit their entries.

“It’s just another way to get people excited about the event and thinking about the theme.”

With free parking, live music, competitions, tours and hands-on activities, Messmore said there are a lot of reasons to attend Coast Day.

“I think there’s something for everyone at Coast Day. Whether you like seafood or are interested in ships and looking at our coastal research vessels, to learning about horseshoe crabs and blue crabs in our crab lab. There’s a lot to see and do and people can relate to it in their everyday lives and come away learning something new. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a great community event.”

Messmore said she hopes that many people attend Coast Day, learn something about Delaware’s coastal environment and have a good time.

“We hope they come away learning something new that they didn’t know before that they can take home with them. Whether it’s a copy of our homeowners’ handbook to prepare for natural disasters or a Coast Day T-shirt, there’s a lot to see and do.”

To learn more about Coast Day, get a complete list of events, or to download and print a Coast Day program, visit Coast Day will be held at the Hugh R. Sharp Campus of the University of Delaware, located at 700 Piolottown Road in Lewes.