Black Duck Cove on Great Wass Island in the town of Beals is a stunningly beautiful piece of coastal real estate. White-capped waves crash against the rocky shore. And on a sunny day, the Schoodic Peninsula and Cadillac Mountain are clearly visible, rising over open-ocean. But it wasn’t the view that attracted the new owners to this site. It was a vision.

The new owners are the Board of Directors of the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research and Education (DEI). “The board has a vision,” says Dr. Brian Beal, director research for DEI. That vision is for a combined shellfish hatchery, marine research facility and educational center in Downeast Maine.

“The first time I came to Black Duck Cove, it was one of those `Aha!’ moments,” Beal says. With two working lobster pounds, 2,500 feet of deep-water access, and a former lobster-tank building, the $1.3 million property at Black Duck Cove is ready-made to house the expanding hatchery, research and education operations.

The story of how the Downeast Institute raised the money to buy this new facility is one of community involvement, persistence and collaboration. It’s also one of the great success stories in recent efforts to preserve Maine’s working waterfront.

DEI, formerly known as the Beals Island Regional Shellfish Hatchery, started out in 1987 in a converted clam-shucking shack on a commercial wharf overlooking Moosabec Reach. Initially, it was an effort to answer a seemingly straightforward question: is it possible to effectively enhance clam stocks with cultured seed?

To answer that question, Beal and a committed volunteer board jumped right in to work with local shellfish harvesters and clam committees. “It was a community effort right from the start,” says Beal. “And in the early years, we probably learned as much about people as we did about clams.”

By the late 1990s, DEI had produced cultured seed stock for over 40 towns along the coast of Maine. DEI’s board members also began to see the possibilities for the Institute to grow into something more than a shellfish hatchery. “We noticed that marine research facilities and marine scientists tend to be clustered in the southwestern part of the state,” says Beal.

In response to a state request for proposals in 2000, the board put together a plan to expand and include a marine research and educational facility. That funding request was denied, but DEI kept its vision alive.

“It was a bitter pill to swallow,” says Beal, “but out of that setback came a great opportunity.” The board began to realize that with a marine research station and an educational facility, they were more than just a shellfish hatchery.

At that point, they decided to change their name to the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research and Education. “It’s a long title,” says Beal, “but it also perfectly describes what we do.”

In 2003, DEI began leasing the facility at Black Duck Cove. “Coming from our 800-square foot clam shack, it was like moving into the Taj Mahal,” says Beal. Great Wass Island, which is connected to Beals Island by a small causeway, also projects further out to sea than any other landmass in eastern Maine.

Maine’s Working Waterfront Coalition recognized the unique attributes of Black Duck Cove, describing the site as “one of the few parcels left in Washington County — for that matter, in the entire state of Maine –where researchers will have immediate access to the ocean.” But the new property also came with a price tag of $1.3 million.

Raising the money took three years and was a collaborative effort between DEI and The Trust for Public Land. DEI purchased the property with a state grant from the Maine Technology Institute and a federal allocation that Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins included in the federal budget.

DEI’s executive director, Mary Anne Clancy, said, “the property, which is already used as a marine field station for the University of Maine at Machias, will be home to the Institute’s shellfish production hatchery, a fully equipped marine laboratory and, eventually, an ocean classroom and marine business incubator. It is an ideal location for the Institute’s work with the shell fishermen of eastern Maine.

“Purchasing the property,” adds. Beal, “is the end of a five-year quest, but it’s really a new beginning.”

To learn more about the Down East Institute for Applied Marine Research and Education, visit its website at

Jeremy Gabrielson is an Island Institute Fellow working in Washington and Hancock counties.