Science for Everyone

Maine

Rockweed Working Group update

I attended the Rockweed Working Group's meeting on Wednesday, April 1, 2015 in Bangor, ME. The Rockweed Working Group is made up of 5 scientists who are volunteering their time help determine how this brown algae should be managed within the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) fisheries management plans before rockweed harvesting takes off as a larger commercial industry. The group has been charged with providing recommendations to DMR about areas that should be designated as closures and prohibit rockweed harvesting. Portions of the coast or islands can only be designated as closures if doing so protects "sensitive" wildlife areas, as determined and justified by scientific evidence. The group has already reviewed the justification for restricting harvesting in specific areas along the coast of Maine during certain times of year to protect declining populations of shore birds. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife tracks changes in bird populations along the coast, and provided data to help the working group determine timing and location of these closures.

Smooth periwinkle snails often hang out on clumps of rockweed where they can be easily mistaken for the air bladders that help the brown algae float in the ocean for maximum photosynthesis.

Smooth periwinkle snails often hang out on clumps of rockweed where they can be easily mistaken for the air bladders that help the brown algae float in the ocean for maximum photosynthesis.

At Wednesday's meeting, the discussion focused on whether Harbor and Gray seals should be classified as sensitive species, and if yes, whether their habitat should be considered for closure. Populations of seals seem to be doing well and so it was challenging to determine whether or not pupping ledges should be closed to rockweed harvesting during pupping season. The Marine Mammal Protection Act  does prohibit individuals from changing the behavior of a marine mammal and so, in a sense, the Federal MMPA would already prohibit rockweed harvesting in any areas that are close enough to disrupts seals. Dr. Brian Beal also presented a literature review of the impact of rockweed harvesting on invertebrates. He concluded that the current evidence from research does not show a major impact of harvesting on intertidal invertebrates; however, more studies need to be done. 

A segment of the meeting was dedicated to figuring out how the Working Group will address intertidal habitat that is owned by or adjacent to conserved lands. A resolution on this issue was not reached. I used this agenda item as an opportunity to follow up on a letter I had submitted last week on behalf of Hurricane Island (see the letter here) and asked that the Working Group consider the intertidal habitat owned or used by field stations and marine labs for educational and scientific purposes to be closed to commercial harvest. The members of the group were extremely receptive to this idea and so I am working to gather the latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates for the areas that should be closed. Once this information has been gathered, I will submit it to DMR for consideration along with the Working Group's recommendations. 

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Maine Science Festival: Climate Change Panel

On Saturday, March 21st, 2015, I participated on a panel about climate change in Maine at the first Maine Science Festival, which was a fantastic event that drew 10,000 people of all ages to interact with science through presentations, workshops, and other events. The panel was moderated by Linda Silka, the former Director of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and a Professor in the School of Economics. Our panel group opened with an overview of climate change in Maine by Dr. Ivan Fernandez. He is a professor at the University of Maine in the forestry department and the Climate Change Institute and he played a significant role in writing the 2009 Maine's Climate Future report and the 2015 update, the culmination of a voluntary effort undertaken by a number of researchers in Maine at the request of Governor Baldacci. 

 Dr. Mathew Chatfield, an assistant professor of conservation biology at Unity College, followed Dr. Fernandez's talk. Dr. Chatfield studies amphibians and reptiles and he focused his presentation on talking about the challenges certain species with narrow ecological niches face as temperatures increase and precipitation patterns change; those species face real barriers to survival.  

One of my presentation slides

One of my presentation slides

My presentation focused on evidence of warming water temperatures and ocean acidification, and the ecological and socioeconomic implications these changes have for important species in the Gulf of Maine. Scientists at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute believe the Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of the world's ocean. Others in the state have attributed the lack of the Northern shrimp (Pandalus borealis) fishery, which is closed for the second season in a row, to warmer water temperatures altering the timing of the spring phytoplankton bloom and the release of shrimp eggs into the water column. The two events used to be synchronized so that larval shrimp could maximize feeding on the ready supply of phytoplankton; however, the timing of each event has shifted due to changes in water temperature. The result is that shrimp larvae are not getting the nutrition they need to survive. I also pointed to other examples of changes in the marine system, including the range expansion of black sea bass and the devastating effects green crabs have had on valuable nursery habitats and on our clam fishery, the third most valuable commercial fishery in the state. These examples are occurring partially because of warming waters and ocean acidification.

Finally, Dr. Caroline Noblet, a professor in the School of Economics at the University of Maine, concluded the discussion by speaking about the public perception of climate change and how to tailor messaging about evidence to initiate action. Once we wrapped up our presentations, the audience asked excellent questions about how to move policy and other initiatives forward to mitigate climate change effects and how communities can adapt to changing conditions. The discussion was engaging and I left the presentation feeling encouraged that people are paying attention and thinking about solutions to this critical issue. 

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20th International Pectinid Workshop in Galway, Ireland

Conducting drop camera surveys on Muscle Ridge in 2013.

Conducting drop camera surveys on Muscle Ridge in 2013.

I booked my flight to Shannon, Ireland on St. Patrick's Day! In early March 2015, I found out that two abstracts I submitted on behalf of the scallop project team were accepted to be presented at the 20th International Pectinid Workshop in Galway, Ireland. The workshop has been organized around several themes including general scallop ecology and biology, aquaculture, fisheries management, and marine protected areas. The event will bring together scientists, managers, and others who work on scallop fisheries research. It provides an amazing opportunity to build my foundational knowledge on scallop biology, plus get some helpful hints on how to improve our project or other potential analyses to do to understand the effectiveness of small-scale closures in rebuilding the resident scallop population. I also have the opportunity to co-chair the plenary session - Marine Protected Areas with marine ecologist and fisheries biologist, Bryce Beukers-Stewart.

My oral presentation will be entitled, "The effect of small-scale closed areas on giant sea scallop populations in Maine" and the poster will focus on the collaborative project approach including lessons learned through working with a diverse group of fishermen, managers, and scientists. I am looking forward to writing additional blog posts to share what I learn while at the workshop. 

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Field Trip to the Maine Granite Industry Museum

Steve explains how the quarrymen drilled holes in the 1830's before the advent of steam drills. This was a 4 person job, with 3 "strikers" wielding 8 pound hammers, and one man seated on an iron box who was in charge of holding and turning the drill to chip out a 2.5" hole.

Steve explains how the quarrymen drilled holes in the 1830's before the advent of steam drills. This was a 4 person job, with 3 "strikers" wielding 8 pound hammers, and one man seated on an iron box who was in charge of holding and turning the drill to chip out a 2.5" hole.

Cait and I were down in Bar Harbor yesterday (April 24, 2014) and had a chance to stop by the Maine Granite Industry Historical Society Museum, which is tucked away just past Somesville on Mount Desert Island. The Museum was founded, curated, and is run by Steve Haynes, who is a fantastic wealth of knowledge about the quarrying process, and who, over the past 46 years, has personally collected and polished granite samples from all of Maine's quarries, interviewed tool boys who worked in the quarries, and collected historic photos and documents of the era. Steve is a stone carver himself, and he took time away from preparing granite memorial stones to step us through the quarrying process and to explain all of the tools that helped cut, shape, move, and polish the granite. We are looking forward to getting Steve out to Hurricane Island, and you should definitely visit the museum if you find yourself on Mount Desert Island! Thanks for everything Steve! You can read about Hurricane's history as a granite quarry town here.

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Maine Might Make Moves on Ocean Acidification!

On Monday January 13, 2014, the Maine Legislature's Marine Resources Committee gathered testimony about a Legislative Document that would establish a formal commission to study the effects of ocean acidification and its potential effects on commercial shellfish harvested and grown along the Maine coast. You can read L.D. 1602 here. This hearing was well attended by stakeholders from all of Maine's major fisheries, scientists, environmentalists, and others.

If this measure is signed by Gov. Paul LePage, the commission would start by identifying the current gaps in knowledge about ocean acidification and make recommendations about how Maine can combat the negative effects of acidification on tourism, fisheries, and the Gulf of Maine ecosystem.

Check out this article in the Portland Press Herald for more information. The bill was considered on January 13, 2014 by a committee of Maine Legislators. Thanks to Rep. Michael Devin from Newcastle for introducing the measure--this could be an exciting step in the right direction for the health of the ocean!

If you want to get involved in supporting this effort, you can sign a petition here.

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