New Natural Resource Officer
Settling In Like A Clam

by William F. Galvin
Heinz Michael Proft examines juvenile clams in the town's shellfish lab on Wychmere Harbor. Photo by William F. Galvin

HARWICH --- The newly hired assistant natural resources officer, Heinz Michael Proft, had moved more like a pelagic fish from one body of water to the next during his early career in the marine sciences, but, the new town shellfish laboratory operator said this week he's as happy as a clam to be settling in on the local flats.

Proft cites his major duties in his new position as operating the shellfish lab; enforcing the town shellfish regulations and overseeing the herring run and its provisions.

The new assistant to Natural Resource Officer Thomas Leach brings to these chores a wealth of knowledge about the sea and a strong ability to process marine data and write technical reports. Proft also brings a Master's Degree in Marine Fisheries and assorted experiences that have allowed him to explore the depths of numerous water bodies.

For the past two years, Proft has been working as a research assistant on a project conducted by Boston University Marine Program at Woods Hole. Working through a grant from the Office of Naval Research, he has been observing a small freshwater fish from Africa known as the Chicklid.

But that was the half of his work at Woods Hole. His other task included writing technical reports on marine data collected from around the island of Johnston Atoll, located 700 miles southwest of Hawaii.

The grant issued to the Boston University Marine Program supports the study of long term impacts to the marine environment surrounding that island, which, according to Proft, contains a government operated chemical incineration facility. The study includes monitoring the surrounding reefs and sediment biology analysis. His role in that effort came to an end last week.

Proft said he is very familiar with Chesapeake Bay through his master's degree study, which, while the degree was issued through The College of William & Mary, was taught at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences.

He is also quite familiar with the marine life in the Exuma Cays in the Bahamas, where he worked at a marine research station operated by Caribbean Marine Research Center on Lee Stocking Island and at the home base in Vero Beach for three years. His responsibilities there included collecting tide, current and water temperature data to support studies conducted by scientists from around the world. He logged 500 scuba dives in that time and conducted deep dives in a mini-submarine.

Proft has even spent a summer in the Bering Sea, working for the National Marine Fisheries Service, as an observer on a Korean fish processing ship working a joint venture. He has also spent time studying artificial reefs and spiny lobsters along the Florida Everglades and taught programs in marine science at The School for Field Studies in St. Johns, V.I.
The Profts enjoy a moment near the end of a busy 1998 season. Sheri shares her background with Heinz in the marine science world and is program manager for the Boston University Marine Science Program at Woods Hole. Photo by Tom Leach <bgsound src="" loop=infinite>

Now 31 years old, Proft said he knew at an early age he wanted to be involved in marine science and left Minnesota to study biology and chemistry at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Penn. There on a soccer and academic scholarship, he studied hard and was accepted into the graduate program at The College of William & Mary.

Like the clams he will nurture, Proft said he plans to entrench himself along the shoreline of this town. His first pressing project is to get the shellfish nursery running smoothly. On June 2, the day he turned 31, Proft took a delivery for 2,000,000 juvenile clams for the nursery.

"Ironically, I became the father of 2,000,000 on the day of my 31 birthday," stated Proft.

Actually, the new assistant natural resource officer is married and lives in Bourne. His wife, Sheri, is the program manager at the Boston University Marine Program at Woods Hole. They have no children.

But the mollusks he is charged with nurturing are growing fast. Proft said the clams received on June 2 are ready to be moved into a new size mesh container to make room for a second, 2,000,000 that was scheduled to be delivered on Tuesday. In all, he said, they hope to raise 6,000,000 clams at the nursery this year to be planted in the wild when they have grown to the point where they are no longer in danger from predators.

"I now know where the expression 'happy as a clam' comes from," stated Proft. "They sit there and someone runs food by them all day."

The new shellfish lab operator said he hopes people come by the Wychmere Harbor building and observe the operation and take the time to learn what is going on at that location.

For certain, the laboratory will be visited by Harwich High School students this summer. A cooperative effort between the Natural Resource Department and HHS biology teacher Troy Hopkins has been struck that will provide an opportunity for five students to participate in a work/study program over a six week period.

These students will help to run the lab and get experience by conducting water analysis, including a record of water temperature, the amount of dissolved oxygen contained in samples and registering the clarity of the water. Proft said he also has a Massachusetts teaching certificate in biology and can assist with this program.

"I feel very comfortable in Harwich, it's a beautiful town and I can settle in here," stated Proft, who said he and his wife do plan to relocate closer to this town.

This article was a feature story in the Chronicle Wednesday, June 10,1998, page 7.

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