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Marine Mavens
By Kirsten Weir

Jonathan Betz and his teammates didn't have much trouble with the questions—even though they were stumpers like, "What's the primary pigment in crab blood?" and "What's the youngest ocean?"

For the two teams from Contoocook Valley Regional High School, known as "Conval," in Peterborough, N.H., the hardest part of the Nor'easter Bowl was, as Betz explained, "competing against your own school."

Eleven high school teams from New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont entered the marine-science bee held at UNH in February, and tried to be the first to hit the buzzer on ocean-science questions that touched on geography, geology, chemistry, biology, sociology and physics. (The answers to the above? Haemocyanin and the Indian Ocean, respectively.)

Sponsored in part by New Hampshire Sea Grant, UNH Cooperative Extension and the UNH Marine Program, the contest at UNH would determine which team would go on to compete at the National Ocean Science Bowl, held this year in Biloxi, Miss.

Betz had reason to worry that he might end up facing his own school: Conval has been a top contender since the first Nor'easter Bowl in 1998. Despite Peterborough's location well inland, the marine science competition has nearly become a religion in Contoocook Valley. With a trophy case devoted to the competition and a set of matching team jackets ("Nicer than the soccer team's!" one student noted), Conval means business.

In 1998, Mariel Powers '04 was captain of Conval's team. Now working on her master's degree in education at UNH, Powers returned to the 2005 competition, this time as a judge. "I'm a self-professed science geek," she said. The competition was just as exciting as Powers remembered, even from her new seat in the judge's chair. "I found my finger slipping into buzzer position," she recalled with a laugh. Powers is currently student-teaching earth science and oceanography to high school freshmen. Someday, she hopes, she'll be bringing her own team to the Nor'easter Bowl to take on her alma mater.

In the end, Betz's fears were realized: In the heated final round of the event, the Conval I team squared off against Conval II, and Betz and his Conval I teammates narrowly beat their classmates to earn first place and a free trip to the national bowl.

As it turned out, Conval I did not win in Biloxi, but one thing was clear: with intellects like these heading off to college and into the workforce, the future looks bright for marine science. "This is really high-level science," Powers said, "and you have to give the kids all the credit."

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