Six years of Maine Sea Grant Undergraduate Scholarships at COA: Part 2

June 1 is the deadline for the Maine Sea Grant Undergraduate Scholarship.  In a previous post, I highlighted the first group of COA students to have these scholarships. I thought I’d focus again on the recipients of this scholarship, but this time look at the four current students that have the awards, Leena Vaher, Emma Ober, Aya Kumagai, and Aliza Leit.  For me, what I think they illustrate really well is the diversity of ways that students navigate our curriculum, and how they use their own combination of opportunities to produce a really strongly focused curriculum, even when that focus differs dramatically among students. 

Among the student summaries below, there are some common themes. All of them have spent time off campus taking classes , either on a boat (SEA semester) or in a different country (Mexico, New Zealand). All of them have spent time doing fieldwork, either at marine labs, one of our island research stations (Great Duck Island or Mount Desert Rock), or in the local mudflats or intertidal streams. Finally, all of them are working with marine resources and people, either fishermen, aquaculturists or tourists, and are trying to communicate their work to a broader audience.  It’s a great group of students and I hope you enjoy their summaries and pictures – Chris 

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Aliza and Emma seining in Northeast Creek on Mount Desert Island attempting to get  silversides for a Cornell Professor studying their genetics (COA alum Nina Therkildsen)

Leena Vaher ’21. I am a third-year student and my interest at COA is to combine conservation biology with filmmaking in order to enhance communication between science and the public. I have always been interested in both of these subjects and COA has offered unique resources and opportunities that have helped me to draw connections between these two fields.

Leena-mdr-falcon-redDuring the past two years, I have spent some time on one of the COA Islands,  Mount Desert Rock. During the first summer out there, I immersed myself in the wildlife and followed around harbor and grey seals, herring and great lack-backed gulls, various shorebirds, falcons who were rare visitors, and anyone really who moved. My goal was to capture the life that a small rock in the middle of the Atlantic ocean offers. It was an amazing opportunity since every day the Rock became larger and larger, as I found more interesting behaviors to capture and stories to document. Just a few examples could be seeing a Spotted sandpiper hunting down a fly or hearing male Grey seals hauling in dusk. Also, being surrounded by the ocean, one has to be creative with repairs or new ideas. It was a wonderful experience to be limited by resources and be creative with existing materials we had on the Rock in order to build something useful for my project.

Leena-and-mdr-crewThe second summer brought me back to the Rock but this time into a slightly different role — I interned as a co-station manager of the research station. Together with a fellow station-manager, we pioneered an experiment to build an “underwater camera trap” which actually was a buoy with an attached GoPro camera. We tried to capture footage of predatory fish around the Rock and did manage to see Pollock, Haddock, and diving Cormorants. We never got footage of our “target” species, Great White Shark, but we saw it swimming further away. An exciting project to continue! The summer also offered several learning experiences in leadership and offered so many good friendships. (PS – We have included another short video of Lenna’s at the end of this post.)

elversAnother opportunity to bridge science and media was in a class called Fisheries, Fishermen, and Fishing Communities where for my final project, I had a chance to follow a small segment of life of diadromous fish — elvers and Alewives crossing the Somesville dam. We were all connected with a local fisheries person and I met Rustin Taylor who taught me about the elver fishery and much more. It was really interesting to film elvers who had swam all the way from the Sargasso Sea and now climbed over a few meters tall dam wall, creating a mass that covered half of the concrete wall. I learned about resilience and dedication looking at these two species. (You can see the short video on Maine Sea Grant’s you tube channel or in a previous blogpost on anadromous fishes here).

Little did I know that a year later, I had a chance to sail in the Sargasso Sea and see eel larvae in a different stage. I participated in the SEASemester Study Abroad program and we sailed in the Caribbean Sea in order to learn about colonization, conservation and everything in between. Because of the COVID-19, the ship continued to sail instead of making port stops on Caribbean islands and we sailed over the Puerto Rico trench as well as in the Sargasso Sea where we did Neuston net toes. My individual research project focused on seabird foraging and I was lucky to continue sailing and to study seabird colonies near remote islands that one can only see from a ship.

I do not know what will come next but one is sure, I will continue to use film as a tool to communicate science with a wider audience since there are so many stories to share!

emma-at-clarks-cove.-redEmma Ober ’20.   Coming to COA, I started my education by exploring marine biology, something that I did not get a lot of exposure to growing up in Vermont. I found that I really loved the subject and have continued to delve deeper into ocean sciences throughout my time at COA. I completed an internship with Allied Whale during the summer between my first and second years. This involved working as a deckhand and research assistant on whale watch trips with Bar Harbor Whale Watch. I also got to spend half the summer on Mount Desert Rock, COA’s remote marine mammal research station. I loved living in the field and working with other researchers on ongoing studies as well as our own studies.

After that summer, I spent a little more time exploring marine mammal science before turning my attention to other areas. In particular, I became interested in studying fisheries science as I feel that it is an area of marine biology that can have a big impact on the lives of people around the world as well as on marine organisms and ecosystems. Over the next summer, I completed an internship at the University of Maine’s Darling Marine Center (DMC) where I worked on a project that is attempting to develop a soft-shell green crab fishery to help control the growing population of this invasive species.

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Left – Emma with her green crab poster from her summer at DMC. Right -Emma in Kino Bay with a mural she worked on while taking classes at Prescott College’s field station.

After leaving the DMC I decided to try to fill my craving for a study abroad experience by completing an ecoleague semester in Sonora, Mexico through the Prescott College Kino Bay Program. I spent six months at Prescott College’s field station in Kino Bay, along with two other COA students, Leah Rubin and Aliza Leit. Part of this was spent in a marine conservation field course where I worked with two other students to create an extensive report on small-scale fisheries in the area. I also spent a month in a Spanish immersion course learning beginner Spanish and living with a family in the town of Kino Viejo.

Young soft-shell clams

Young soft-shell clams doing well when protected from predation in screened boxes.

After returning from Mexico, I’ve focused on local fishery work for my senior project with a series of studies looking at different aspects of the soft-shell clam fishery in Downeast Maine. I am currently working on writing up a study we completed this past summer looking at predation of juvenile clams in different mudflats on Mount Desert Island – a project that I am handing off to Aliza this summer. This coming summer, I will be involved with a study analyzing data from annual reports submitted to the Maine Department of Marine Resources by towns in Downeast Maine to attempt to evaluate the strategies towns are using to manage their soft-shell clam resources.

costa-rica-field-notebookAya Kumagai ’21. I am currently in Hakodate, a port city that is located on the southern tip of Hokkaido (northern most of the four main islands that makes Japan). I am working in a seabird-researching lab at Hokkaido University as my internship. I am part of a research project that is looking at how seabirds might be impacted by offshore windfarms. My personal project is about the flight height of Black-tailed gulls. The plan was to leave for an offshore filed site late this month (April), but this has been postponed due to the current pandemic. If I do get to go to the island (which I really hope!!), I will be tagging two different species of gulls with GPS loggers that can give us information on where the gulls have been and how high they were flying. I will be analyzing this data to see what might impact how high the gulls fly, and I will also be learning ways to create a sensitivity map of Black-tailed gulls for offshore windfarms. The plan is to take these findings and experience back to Maine and see what applies to the gulls that breed off the coast of Maine. Both Maine and Hokkaido are areas with great potential for offshore windfarms, but also has many seabird breeding islands. I am very excited to see what might apply between these two places.

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Great Duck lighthouse and the pier at Hakodate – pictures by Aya

aya-with-petrel-chickMy interest in seabirds started two summers ago when I visited Great Duck Island after my first year at COA. I was only on the island for a week, but I got to tag along with students that had projects out on the island. I got to see my first Leach’s Storm Petrel in Chole’s hand (a student that was on the island). It was like magic, and that moment, I decided that I wanted to spend my next summer on Great Duck Island researching petrels. The following summer that I spent on Great Duck Island was the best summer I have ever spent so far in my life. I investigated whether vegetation type influenced petrel burrow density and conducted a population estimate. Not only I got to practice filed-research skills (ex. using GPS units to map features, banding petrels, and taking field notes) and got the opportunity to present a poster at a conference, I also got to make many mistakes in a safe environment and learnt a lot of lessons (ex. data entry should happen every day while you can remember the details but also the importance of taking filed notes that you can read a year later and make sense out of it, string your field notes on to you so you don’t accidentally drop it when going through bushes, and more.) Sunsets were always different and beautiful, and I got to share those with friends and other creatures on the island. It was very special.

As you might be able to tell from this story, I enjoy fieldwork and my interest/passion is with ecology and conservation. These interests have taken me to many places since I came to COA. I’ve been to Eastern California in an Environmental-STEM field method course with COA geologist Sarah Hall.  I also had the opportunity to spend a term in Costa Rica with a Tropical Ecology/Conservation/Science through the lens of Art course that Stephen Ressel and Jenny Rock. We visited various field stations and conducted multiple field research projects.  It was a fascinating experience to find questions in the field and think about ways to try and answer them, but it was even more fascinating to be immersed with so many unknowns of the tropical rainforest and left with even more questions. We also got to interact with field station managers, guides, and entrepreneurs that made me re-think what conservation meant for Costa Rica and for other places on this earth.

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Leena and Aya also took part in a 2-day workshop on facilitating meetings run by Maine Sea Grant (pictured above).  Left – Leena and Aya on the left with MSG staff and UMO graduate students. Right – Aya presenting and Lenna on the right listening.

I also have had the opportunity to work in Dr. Beth Dumont’s lab at Jackson Laboratory. The broad objective of this lab is to better understand the causes of various mechanisms that generates genetic diversity. I was fascinated by the idea of using genetics as a way to explore my interest in ecology and evolution. My personal project at the lab looks at the DNA satellite sequence variation in voles. The overarching goal is to assess the role of satellite DNA sequence turnover in the evolutionary history and speciation of voles. Through this experience, I was able to familiarize myself with the topics in evolutionary genetics (with a focus on microsatellites), gained skills in bioinformatics and coding (with lots of help from Dan Gatti and researchers at the lab), and had a firsthand experience of working in a research lab outside of COA. Just like the rainforest in Costa Rica, mechanisms that could be contributing to genetic diversity is full on unknowns! I hope to continue working at the lab once I am back at COA.

Aliza-on-Shrimp-Trawler-

Aliza Liet ’21. Taking Chris Petersen’s marine biology class my freshman year at COA gave me the opportunity to explore my relationship with the ocean. After this class I became completely enamored by marine ecosystems and began seeking out other unique and exciting ways to learn about marine conservation, aquaculture, and fisheries. Through the Ecoleague program I studied at Prescott College’s Kino Bay Field Station in Sonora, Mexico on the Gulf of California during the fall of my sophomore year. This immersive and memorable experience deepened my understanding of  marine protected areas, the impacts of industrial fishing fleets, and community led marine conservation efforts (Image on left from a shrimp trawl in the Gulf of California). Throughout the spring of my sophomore year I collected, counted, and staged orange footed sea cucumber plankton from Frenchman Bay to assist Chris with an ongoing research project. I also helped install clam recruitment boxes to better understand predation and environmental stressors on soft shell clam populations for another ongoing research project.

Aliza-touch-tankIn the fall of my junior year I left the U.S. once again to study abroad, this time in New Zealand through a consortium agreement. I studied aquaculture, biological oceanography, and marine invertebrate ecology and biology at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. This spring I am using each of these experiences to shape COA’s new Meat and Seafood Purchasing Policy which I am working on with two other students as a group independent study. In addition to working towards enacting policy change this year at an institutional level, I received a Maine Space Grant to work on a clam recruitment experiment and will be socially distancing on the mudflats this upcoming summer of 2020.


To wrap things up, here is a short video from Leena on a day at Mount Desert Rock

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Six years of Maine Sea Grant Undergraduate Scholarships at COA: Part 1

For the seventh year Maine Sea Grant is offering its Undergraduate Scholarship, and COA will be one of the participating institutions, as we have been since this scholarship started in 2014. Second and third year COA students are eligible to apply.  For more information about eligibility, with a description and link to the application go to this Maine Sea Grant page or contact me via email.  Deadline for applications is June 1, 2020 — Chris Petersen 

In 2014, three COA students received undergraduate scholarships from Maine Sea Grant for their academic work on marine and coastal issues as second and third-year undergrads.  Six years later  I thought it might be fun to check in with that inaugural group, Ellie Oldach, Madeline Motley, and Roshni Mangar,  and have them give updates.

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Left to Right, Madeline (with one of her many pets), Roshni on what I think must be a west coast beach (looks too cold for the Indian Ocean), and Ellie holding a tasty invertebrate. Top picture of baby sea turtles by Madeline Motley.

Madeline Motley.  Madeline actually wrote the student announcement for this scholarship in 2015, and highlighted Ellie, Roshni, and herself, so I thought I’d start with Madeline.  As an undergrad Madeline did internships studying sea turtles and marine conservation in Malaysia and Hawaii.  She also was a co-editor for this blog for her last two years at COA, and was a teaching assistant for marine biology.

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Madeline helping to collect algae at a tide pool at Otter Point, and at an amazing coral reef in Malaysia.

Despite her love for marine biology and sea turtles (her senior project was a summary of the different strategies that non-profits and government agencies used in sea turtle conservation and what factors affected the success of these programs), Madeline is back in Wisconsin, in her words in an email from early April:

I have been with Exact Sciences Laboratories for the past 3 1/2 years. I thought it would be temporary, but hey, turns out I absolutely love the company and Wisconsin.  I got my Molecular Biology certification through the ASCP two years ago, and am now a Technical Specialist in the Clinical Lab. The past few weeks have been pretty crazy. We have been putting together a lab to test for COVID19, and we just went live. The project reminded me a lot of putting together that spring break short course.  COA would love this company. They are very environmentally conscious and get creative with recycling. “How are we going to recycle this/do with waste?” are ALWAYS  questions when we get something new. I love it.  

I may have ended up back in my home town, but I wouldn’t be where I was without COA.  I’m able to public speak, teach (I ran an ASCP study group), question things… I don’t know if I would have developed (or even tried) those skills at a large school. Our interdisciplinary education came in handy so many times. Including, yup, art. “Send it to Madeline to make it pretty,” is something I hear a lot. I am very thankful for COA and all the amazing professors. We are planning a trip to Bar Harbor, so hopefully I will be able to thank everyone in person soon. 

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Madeline at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory during a molecular genetics short course, and a picture of her in the tropics.

Madeline is married to alum Tyler Freitas and they have a house in Wisconsin. And lots of pets.

Ellie Oldach.  Ellie was a third-year student when she got the scholarship in 2014, and graduated in 2015 after creating several podcasts and an article about Lyme disease for her senior project. Ellie has always been a strong propoent of science communication, and has a blog, zeacology. I think my favorite post of hers is when she put a human face on the fires in California two years ago – you can see it here reprinted in the COA magazine (p. 52). Ellie has been back in Maine quite a bit since graduation, and I saw her just last month at the fishermen’s forum. This is her summary of her years after graduation:

… I then headed off to New Zealand for a year as a Fulbright student working with a lab to study the ecology of the South Island’s intertidal ecosystems. During that dreamy year, I developed an interest in studying and writing about social-ecological systems. Returning to the US, I spent two years in Maine and DC, developing this interest as a freelance ecologist (…it’s a thing! You can do it, too.), then decided to formally study marine social-ecological systems through a PhD program in a newly created Sustainable Oceans Program at UC-Davis.  Now two years into her program at Davis, I’m enjoying explorations into network analysis, surveys and interviews, and the challenges and joys of community-engaged research. I still split my time between California and the gorgeous coast (and community) of Downeast Maine.

Ellie-on-a-lobster-boat-redEllie has been engaged in work on the lobster fishery on both coasts, working with our friends at the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries including Dr Josh Stoll – and is supported in part by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. She also worked with me and Hannah Webber from Schoodic Institute on our rockweed research, and produced this short video on the policy questions surrounding this fishery.


Ellie’s short video on rockweed.

Roshni Mangar. Roshni worked extensively with Allied Whale, the marine mammal non-profit based at COA while she was a student. The summer after she graduated she was the assistant station manager before moving on to combine education and research in Florida and back in the Indian Ocean over the next 3 years.  Roshni wrote a summary of her postgraduate path below, and I’ve also included two COA videos, one short one where she explains her background and a second that was the presentation of her senior project.  First, her summary:

After graduating from COA, I worked as an assistant station manager at Mount Desert Rock for 3 months, followed by working at SeaCamp in Florida. I worked at SeaCamp for 8 months as a marine educator. After SeaCamp, I joined WiseOceans in the Seychelles. At WiseOceans, I worked as a Reef Restoration Officer and a Marine Educator. After working with WiseOceans for a year, I volunteered as a research assistant at the Bodega Marine Laboratory at UC Davis. I worked on krill populations and crab larvae. After my time at Bodega, I returned to Mauritius and worked for WiseOceans again as a Marine Educator. 

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Roshni working in the Seychelles, underwater setting up surveys and in the classroom.

After Wise Oceans, I started my journey to graduate school! I am currently finishing the last term of my first year at the University of British Columbia at the Institute of Ocean Fisheries. I am a Master’s student in the Project Seahorse Laboratory, under the supervision of Dr. Amanda Vincent. My thesis is on the socio-economic aspects of bottom trawling in Tamil Nadu, India. I will hopefully be starting my field season as soon as the COVID situation is under control. I will be interviewing fishers along the coast of Tamil Nadu to better understand their ties to the fishing industry.

Here is a video of Roshni explaining her educational path to COA:

And here is another short video with her presenting her senior project work to the COA Board of Trustees:

Since 2014, we have had 14 students receive scholarships, including four that are still current students.  I’m going to try to have another post or two updating some of the other students as well. – Stay safe and sane everyone.

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Rights to a River: fish without water and people without food

Editors Note: This Outreach piece was written by College of The Atlantic student, Emma Ober ’20, for an assignment in the COA Fisheries, Fishermen, and Fishing Communities class in the spring of 2019. 

Rights to a River
Fish without water and people without food
by Emma Ober

As the weather finally begins to warm, Maine’s forests start to wake up; bird song fills the air, leaves begin to coat the canopies of trees, and hopeful sprigs of green poke up from the mud. For those who know how to look more closely, similar signs of spring appear as rivers and streams in the area begin to fill with life. 

On Saturday, May 18th, 2019, students from College of the Atlantic’s class on Fisheries, Fishermen, and Fishing Communities traveled to a dam on the Pennamaquan River in Pembroke, Maine. Our host, Chris Bartlett from Maine Sea Grant Extension, showed us around the area and told us about some of his work. Chris also invited Ed Bassett, a member of the Passamaquoddy tribe to talk about his experiences and perspectives. Chris led us down a small path to a rocky area next to the water. Looking down into the the rapids, everything looks completely normal for a few seconds, until suddenly it becomes apparent that what looks like rippling water flowing over smooth rocks is in fact the bodies of hundreds of sleek, gray fish fighting their way upstream. You can put your hand in the water and feel them slide past you as vast densities of these incredible organisms pass through the water. Students were perching on the rocks grabbing fish with their bare hands like some hilarious parody of a brown bear that has replaced it’s fur with a Patagonia puff jacket. 

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Hallie Arno (left) and Truth Muller (right) celebrate catching River Herring from below the Pembroke Dam

The fish the students were catching are called River Herring. This is the name given to two species of nearly identical anadromous fish (species that live in the ocean and spawn in freshwater): Alewives, Alosa pseudoharengus, and Blueback Herring, Alosa aestivalis, that both migrate from sea up New England rivers to lay their eggs in freshwater ponds and lakes. The journey undertaken by these small fish is a very difficult and treacherous one, but they continue to push forward every year, returning to the same lake or pond where they were born. In the past, River Herring have run up nearly every river in Maine, however the increase of dams, pollution, and overfishing have wiped them from many rivers and drastically reduced their numbers throughout the state. The fish we were seeing that day were victims of a dam system; unable to migrate up the poorly designed fish ladder because of the high water, the alewives are stuck below passage, waiting for water flow to lower so they will be to travel to their spawning habitat upstream on the Pennamaquan. Struggles like these are commonplace all along the coast, with fish being denied access to their normal breeding grounds by the presence of man-made obstructions like dams. Luckily, many people and organizations throughout the state are working hard to bring back the historical abundances of these fish.

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A quick snapshot of the fish as they try to pass the rapids below the dam

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Right: The dam and poorly designed fish ladder that the Alewives are trying to get up. Photo Credit: Hallie Arno

Below: One of the fish ladders in the dam system. Fish ladders help fish move up the river past the dam by providing different smaller pools where they can rest from the current before they move up the next “rung.”

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Ed Bassett is one of these people; he has served on the Passamaquoddy tribe’s environmental department since he was hired in 2002 because of his GIS and mapping expertise. He was generous enough to join us on Saturday and sat at a picnic table with the class to discuss his history and the projects he is doing with resource management. Much of Ed’s work with the department has been focused on alewives. However, Ed shared that his first interaction with alewife fish management was not necessarily that positive, at least in terms of legal consequences. One day Ed was canoeing with a friend on one of the rivers in Downeast Maine and came across a chicken-wire dam that private landowners had put up to capture alewives in the river behind their house. Seeing all the fish running up into the dam, Ed acted on his first instinct and broke open the wire to let the fish through. The young Ed was caught and reprimanded for tampering with private property. Luckily, no one pressed charges, and all Ed had to do was to repair the damages. “I shouldn’t have done that,” he told our class, “but I just got so emotional seeing the fish blocked from migrating.”
Today, Ed is just as passionate, but a bit less impulsive with his work. He still does work to report and take down illegal dams, but this is done through legal channels with the tribal council and other conservation groups. “I don’t want to cause trouble these days, I just want to work with people,” Ed says.

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Ed Bassett talking to me and another student about his tribe’s history with the state government. Ed is holding a device that lets him place an underwater camera in the river and send live video to his phone of the fish swimming by. Photo credit: Chris Petersen

Unfortunately, history with the Maine government has not inspired Ed’s trust. For Ed, the conflict began when settlers came to the US and began infringing on the tribal way of life. It stems from the doctrine of discovery in place at that time. Any explorer who landed in an “undiscovered” land, could claim it for their country, ignoring the native people that had lived there long before they came. “We didn’t even matter, it was like we were the same as the animals,” Ed says. The tribe struggled to adapt to the new invaders. The Passamaquoddy people never recognized land and resource ownership the way the settlers did. History has examples where some chiefs did not understand what settler governments were trying to do and ended up selling large amounts of land for depressingly small prices. The relationship with the state is still filled with tension to this day. Ed explains how “the state doesn’t trust native people.” He talked about the history of conflicts between tribal people and the government, mentioning a number of cases where tribe members have been unfairly prosecuted for crimes surrounding resource use. 

The Passamaquoddy people have been tied to the rivers and these resources since far before settlers came to America. For thousands of years, men, women, and children would wade into the rushing waters, bubbling with fish, and harvest them by hand, filling enough baskets to feed the tribe through the winter. Today, anadromous fish are even more important. Ed explained how the amount of pollution that runs into rivers has made almost all freshwater species toxic for human consumption. The tribe now relies on fish from the ocean for a lot of their food since they accumulate fewer toxins. Because alewives spend much of their life in saltwater, they would be a good candidate to supply food for the tribe. However, increased fishing pressure and dams from outside groups have seriously reduced fish populations, leading to the need for stricter management of the resource. Though they were not responsible for these declines, the tribe is still affected by the lack of fish and the associated management restrictions. Today, state and federal laws have seriously infringed on the tribe’s rights to fish in ancestral waters. Ed talked about tribal fishermen being allowed to harvest from islands that were within the tribal territory, but as soon as they stepped their feet in the water, it no longer counted the sustenance fishing and they could get in trouble.

Ed is trying to help improve the situation, both for the fish and the community. The dam we are standing below has an interesting story itself. Chris explained how the dam system on this river wasn’t built as a power supply, like many similar structures throughout the state. Instead, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife hoped that by damming the river, it could create more marshland habitat for the Ring-Necked Duck, a species that could provide another target for sportsmen in the area. Hearing from Chris and Ed, it seems to me like the area has clearly favored the rights of the sport industry to use this waterway, far more than the indigenous tribes, commercial fishermen, and even the anadromous fish themselves. Many dam owners are required to invest in structures to help anadromous fish bypass the obstructions. However, from what I could see, the Pembroke dam fish ladder is clearly more for show. Though we observed what had to be many hundreds of fish filling the river below the fish ladder, the fish counter installed at the top of the dam showed that mere 37 had managed to pass the obstruction over the last day. It doesn’t seem to me like there is much incentive from dam owners to do anything to address this. The dam itself was rebuilt a few years ago, but the last work on the fishways was in 1958, so it’s no wonder they are functioning so poorly today.

Chris-Bartlett-redChris Bartlett, a Sea Grant employee, explains the fish counting device installed at the top of the dam system. This shows how many fish are managing to make it past the dams and up into the river and can also help track how the population is doing. Through increased monitoring and data collection, the town has been able to reopen the recreational fishery that allows people with a recreational license to take 25 fish, provided they stay a certain distance from the fishway. Looking at the numbers on the fish counter shows a very sad picture about how much the dams are affecting the fish. All the numbers on the counter were in the single digits. Going from seeing the water below the dam teaming with so many hundreds of fish to realizing how few of them are able to make it past the obstacle is very sad and disheartening. It shows you how much these fish are being disadvantaged and completely prevented from making it through their migration.

Ed talked about how in another watershed the sportfishing industry strongly advocated for the continued blocking of alewives at a dam. Worried about alewives competing for resources with their target sports fish in the upstream lakes and ponds, they wanted to block the River Herring from coming up the river. When listening to a recording of this meeting, Ed was appalled by what the sport fishing groups were doing and was worried about misinformation being spread. He has set about on a project trying to change the way people view the River Herring in this watershed. When he describes it he talks about how incorrect statements and advocacy against the River Herring changed the history of the area. His job, he says, is to go back and rewrite it back to the truth. Ed has been conducting research into the history and challenges of the alewife runs in this area, reading documents and books, talking to historians, and going out into the field to investigate the current assumptions about fishery. “The thing with GIS is you can’t just sit in front of your computer and assume your mapping is going to be accurate. You have to go out and groundtruth it.” And that’s just what Ed is doing. He’s working to prove the presence of these fish back through history and hopes to see them restored, once again able to flood the rivers on their journey to their rightful birthplace. For him, it’s not just about restoring the fishery. He talks about the tribe’s connection to the natural world around them “whatever happens to the resource happens to us…it’s not just about bringing back sustenance for the people, it’s about bringing back the whole ecosystem.”

Interested in diadromous fishes in downeast Maine? Here are some more sites that might be of interest:

Diadromous fish videos: Elvers, alewives, Somesville and downeast Maine. A previous post in the marine studies at COA site with 3 videos focusing on diadromous fish and downeast rivers in Maine.

At the Downeast Fisheries Trail website there are articles on river herring, both a fisheries then and a fisheries now article written by Julia Beaty (then and now) and Natalie Springuel (then).

The Downeast Salmon Federation is involved in a project to replace and repair the fishways on the Pennamaquan, you can read more about their work here.

The Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries is also doing fish restoration work in Hancock County, focused in the Bagaduce Watershed and Estuary.  The Downeast Salmon Federation, Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries, and COA are three of the partners in the Downeast Fisheries Partnership.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources has a Sea-Run Fisheries division with a webpage and links to general information, programs and projects on the diversity of diadromous fishes that occur in Maine.

 

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Working waterfront in Maine

Editor’s note: I grew up in Los Angeles, where the huge ports of San Pedro and Long Beach monopolized a section of the bay, the oil refineries shared the landscape, and the large cranes that removed containers reminded us of imperial walkers.  Yet a mile away there were houses, restaurants, and condos facing the ocean.  These two places didn’t mix, they were like oil and water, and the boundaries were clear. In Maine, in most towns the working waterfront is interdigitated among restaurants and houses, private and public piers sit next to each other, and access to the water seems to be as fragile as a for-sale sign. This post includes the work of two students from the spring of 2019. The first is a video by graduate student Giulia Cardoso ’20 for a documentary video class, and has interviews from fishermen in Steuben, Northeast Harbor, and Boothbay Harbor. The text and pictures that follow is from Kiernan Crough ’22, from an assignment in Natalie Springuel and my Fisheries, Fishermen, and Fishing Communities class in the spring of 2019.  Both Kiernan and Giulia went to many of the ports together, so it seemed like a good idea to link the two projects together. At the end of the post, there are some links to resources for anyone that wants to find out more about working waterfront challenges in Maine. – Chris Petersen

Where It All Starts:  College of the Atlantic graduate student Giulia Cardoso interviews multiple stakeholders of Maine’s working waterfront and discusses the challenges for keeping public access to Maine’s coastline.

 

Coastal communities and working waterfronts of Maine. By Kiernan Crough

Following an oversized black pickup down a wooded backroad in Steuben, Maine, the road wound its way to spit us out into a clearing of sleepy houses nestled on the bay’s coast. The large stacks of lobster traps sitting in each well-kept lawn quickly informed us that we were in the right place. Stepping out of the car and walking down to the 80-foot wooden wharf, Giulia and I shake hands with Mike Sargent, a multi-generational fishermen and current board member of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association. Surrounding the wharf are fuel and bait houses, a lobster pound, and a large float covered in skiffs which juts out into the glassy bay: pretty much everything a lobsterman could ask for. It’s an overcast but beautiful day as we launch the skiff off the floating dock and motor over to Mike’s boat, the 42-foot Tina Marie Ⅱ, who idly drifts in the sheltered bay. After one return trip to retrieve a forgotten camera battery, we settle on deck and into a long conversation on the future of Maine’s working waterfronts. Giulia and I are students at the College of the Atlantic with a shared interest in Maine fisheries and fishing communities. She set up this meeting with Mike as a part of her documentary class to interview and shoot footage of the newest generation of fishermen and I tagged along to help with audio and witness the reality of those fishing communities I had previously only read about in class.

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Michael Sargent standing aboard the F/V Tina Marie

Mike works out of Francis Lobster Company, a multigenerational facility that was started back in the 1930s and has since been maintained by the families that grew up and built their livelihoods along that stretch of coast. There’s a strong sense of community surrounding the wharf: whenever something needs to be done – such as the yearly maintenance needed after the icy and stormy Maine winters – those who revolve around Francis Lobster Company come together to pool their efforts. Small communities such as these are aware that there isn’t an entity taking care of them – that for the most part, they have to look out for themselves and for each other. But as development makes its way down the coast of Maine, Mike hopes that the heritage of the working waterfront stays alive. He adds that, “[t]he fear is that as fishing becomes more threatened [there’s the] idea we could be the last generation to have that access, then the death of all these communities is right behind it cause there’s nothing else to support it.” Waterfront access is crucial for those who make their living off the water, but for many Maine coastal communities it represents more than a simple economic opportunity. Wharves and piers are the physical embodiment of centuries-long heritage and legacy that define the character of these communities. Loss of access would mean loss of income, but most importantly loss of identity. Mike is optimistic about the future of fishing in Maine; he believes fishermen will always find a way to fish thanks to their resilience and ingenuity. His biggest concern is that outside influence such as gentrification and development may lead to loss of waterfront access – a threat against which resilience and ingenuity may not be enough. He advocates for collaboration as the key to strike a balance between property development and working waterfront preservation, so that both can co-exist on the coast of Maine.

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The view of the waterfront in Steuben where Mike works from

As a family-run wharf, Francis Lobster Company is a privately owned facility, like the majority of working waterfronts in Maine. The risk with private wharves is that the families who own them may struggle with maintenance costs and property taxes, and eventually resort to selling the property to avoid financial difficulties. Once the property is sold, it is likely to be converted to non-water dependent uses, such as private residences or tourism services and never be accessible again to fishermen. While Mike’s wharf is not currently threatened by this, other waterfronts in the southern part of the State have had to deal with precisely this issue. In this sense, Boothbay Harbor has recently been in the spotlight as the town came to vote on the fate of its Maritime District. On May 3rd, 2019, voters ultimately decided to split the district into two zones, one dedicated to maritime uses and the other to limited commercial uses. The commercial zoning will allow for the development of motels, hotels, inns, microbreweries, and marinas. In addition, the maximum building height will increase from 30 to 35 feet; this will allow businesses to gain access to the scenic views of the harbor, while maintaining ground-level spaces accessible to fishermen.

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Boothbay Harbor

Motivated by this partial victory in favor of working waterfronts, Giulia and I travelled to the Midcoast town to learn more. Boothbay Harbor has a long history as a tourist destination and as Giulia and I drove through the brightly colored streets and the bustle of springtime renovations, it felt as if the town was slowly waking up to brush its teeth, comb its hair and prepare for the seasonal visitors. Compared to Steuben, which felt altogether lived in and distinctly adapted to the wharf and fishing lifestyle, Boothbay Harbor felt as if it was being put together to sell the experience of a sleepy fishing town while truly accommodating visitors’ demands. Dock space is reserved for recreational yachts in the summer, meaning fishermen have to leave their boats on moorings; and while tourists come to see the fishermen and the working waterfront, they also want to stay in waterfront hotels and eat in restaurants overlooking the harbor.

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Carter’s wharf, the sea pier in Boothbay Harbor, which was donated to the Boothbay Region Maritime Foundation

Troy Plummer, a young lobsterman who grew up in Boothbay Harbor, is very aware that the tourists’ desire to observe fishermen clashes with the reality of the work: the pungent smell of bait, the loud diesel engines being started before dawn, and all the noises and sights that necessarily come with being close to the waterfront. Facing forward with one hand on the wheel, he circles his boat, the F/V Odyssey, around the edge of the harbor and puts us in the perspective of the fishermen of Boothbay Harbor, both literally and figuratively. He explains to us that “[v]acation homes, hotels, restaurants– they have more economic power than we do as a fishing industry for a myriad of reasons and we’re competing for the same real estate. And there’s only so much here.”. While the community does support the working waterfront – with one donor even gifting the town fishermen a pier that was at risk of being purchased and converted to a luxury property – they also understand that their own survival and growth improve with the economic opportunities that tourism provides. Troy, however, emphasizes how tourism’s contribution is only seasonal, while the fishing industry keeps the community alive year-round. His worry is that blinded by mere economic gain, the town will eventually forget its fishing roots and dedicate itself entirely to tourists. This could have life-changing consequences for those Boothbay Harbor families that have been fishing for generations, from loss of income to significant changes in habits and traditions. Among other concerns, Troy shares his worry that as development and urbanization spread, tolerance for commercial activities that are traditionally accepted in residential areas in Maine (such as stacking lobster traps in yards) could be reduced and ultimately banned, something that has already occurred in other coastal states. It’s not all gloom and doom, though, and just like Mike suggested, hope and creative solutions come from mediating between the contrasting needs of fishing and tourism: Troy points out that, “[a] couple of the places here are already restaurants and lobster docks. The restaurant’s there to keep the property acting as a lobster dock.”. By increasing their revenue through the restaurant business, the dock owners can continue to run the facility and serve the fishermen. It’s a compromise, but it ensures that no activity displaces the other.

Troy-Plummer

Troy Plummer standing next to the F/V Odyssey in Boothbay Harbor, Maine

Despite the struggles and issues they face, the fishermen we met were proud of their heritage and confident that fishing in their communities will remain and evolve as it has done since humans first learned to harvest food from the rivers and oceans. While their tenacity and ingenuity are certainly a huge asset in keeping their lifestyle alive, they may not be enough to take on the growing outside pressures that threaten it. The communities who stand behind fishermen, and the State of Maine itself, should recognize and embrace their significance and support them in their upcoming struggles.

Additional Resources:

Maine Sea Grant has an excellent website with links to several Maine and National publications on working waterfront.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR) as part of the Maine Coastal Program also has an excellent website with links to a large number of documents on working waterfront in Maine.

Edited by Chris Petersen and Aliza Leit ’21

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Diadromous fish videos: Elvers, alewives, Somesville and downeast Maine

Marine studies at COA is a platform for students, faculty, and alums from COA to post stories, pictures, videos, ideas, and their work around ocean biology, policy, aesthetics, and people. It is edited by Chris Petersen and COA students, currently the co-editor is Aliza Leit ’21. 

More and more, short videos are becoming an important way to get information out on ecology and natural history of species and phenomenon that might be happening right under our noses, or under our cars as we drive through Somesville.  These videos represent three examples with varying levels of geographic scale and professional production. The  first two use the same location, Somesville and Somes Stream, but focus on two different fish migrations. The third looks more broadly at river conservation in downeast Maine.

The first video is by College of the Atlantic undergraduate, Annaleena Vaher ’21. Leena created this short film as a final project for her Fisheries, Fishermen, and Fishing Communities class at College of the Atlantic in the spring of 2019. In particular, the focus is on elvers or glass eels, and just the sheer number of this species moving upstream is nothing short of remarkable.  The shots of elvers trying to come up over the dam and in the concrete pool leading to the mill pond at Somesville are simply stunning.

 

The second video was produced by a professional film-making crew brought in to work with the park. The title of the video is Greater Connection: Alewife Recovery on MDI, and the film’s producers have allowed us to link the video here.

Several individuals, including College of the Atlantic Professor, Chris Petersen, Acadia National Park personnel Bruce Connery and Rebecca Cole-Will, and Somes-Meynell Sancturay director Billy Helprin were interviewed.  Billy spoke about the research on alewife restoration at the Somes-Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary. This film has some wonderful footage of alewives moving up the stream, and some great narrative that outlines both the history of the area and the restoration efforts going on in the stream.

The third video was created for Maine Coast Heritage Trust called Restoring Rivers in Downeast Maine.  It has some remarkable landscapes that capture the beauty of rivers in Hancock and Washington County.  Maine Coast Heritage Trust and COA are both members of the Downeast Fisheries Partnership, a group of organizations whose goal is to strengthen downeast Maine communities by restoring a strong and resilient ecosystem and our regional fisheries economy.

Posted by Aliza Leit ’21 and Chris Petersen

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Who Owns Rockweed?

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of videos that have been produced by COA students, alums, and our partners on coastal and ocean issues focused on downeast Maine.  In addition to Ellie Oldach’s video , we give links to several other sources, and past COA student posts on the rockweed issue. – Chris Petersen and Aliza Leit ’21

Who owns intertidal marine resources in Maine? And how will this impact harvest, conservation, and research? In this short film, UC Davis graduate student and COA alum, Ellie Oldach, discusses the recent privatization of rockweed with researchers Chris Petersen of College of the Atlantic and Hannah Webber of the Schoodic Institute.

 

We wanted to provide more context to understand the conversations in the film. Several things had been done in Frenchman Bay before this video was created:

Chris and Hannah have been conducting research on rockweed in Frenchman Bay since 2016, following a Frenchman Bay Partners stakeholder meeting in Sullivan Maine. At that meeting, it became clear to stakeholders that even the most basic questions about rockweed in Frenchman Bay, such as how fast it grows here and what the current biomass is, were unknown.

In response to this uncertainty, Frenchman Bay Partners decided to make rockweed a conservation target, and began to develop a conservation action plan for the species.  This plan focused on what was needed to understand the ecology of rockweed in Frenchman Bay. The plan did not take an anti- or pro-harvest stance, but instead asked how to determine what “sustainable harvest” might mean for the bay and how such an idea could be realized.

Following up on this meeting, Hannah and Chris launched a research project on Frenchman Bay rockweed. This research included measuring growth rate and size of plants around the bay, along with an estimate of biomass for each of 15 sites. In addition, at several sites, they simulated harvest by cutting rockweed to its legal limit of 16 inches.  That research is ongoing, with probes at several sites collecting temperature and light data on both control areas and areas with simulated harvest.  Those data should be collected through 2020, and reported out in 2021.  Chris and Hannah also offered a ‘Rockweed Rodeo‘ in Sullivan in May, 2017, to explain to local residents the research they were conducting in the bay.

Finally, here is a perspective from Camden Hunt, a student in the 2019 COA course Fisheries, Fishermen, and Fishing Communities on the initial court ruling and before the Maine Supreme Court and decided the appeal of the case.

Hannah Webber is currently doing her Ph.D. research as part of the project CRASSH
Conserving Rockweed Animal Systems for a Sustainable Harvest.
This work is being led by University of Maine professors Amanda Klemmer and Brian Olsen and Maine Maritime Academy professor Jessica Muhlin

Other resources on rockweed:

A Fish Called Rockweed by Ben Goldfarb.

University of Maine Cooperative Extension Rockweed Fact Sheet

The Rockweed Coalition/ Save our Seaweed

Post created by Aliza Leit ’21, Ellie Oldach ’15 and Chris Petersen

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Growing-Out: Expanding Perspectives of Aquaculture in Downeast Maine

This is the second post from COA’s Fisheries, Fishermen, and Fishing Communities class from Spring 2019.

By Indigo Woods and Aliza Leit

Throughout this spring term, we have looked at the aquaculture industry in Maine as part of our Fisheries, Fishermen, and Fishing Communities class taught by Chris Petersen and Natalie Springuel. We are going to share stories from our experiences visiting four different farms and talking with aquaculturists. We found that aquaculture ranges from small to large-scale operations along the coast of Maine, there are a variety of different practices and species grown, and that each individual we talked to has unique motivations for having an aquaculture business. In conjunction with one another, all of these things create an array of perspectives on the industry, even when just focusing on the aquaculture company owners’ side of the story.

Above: Pictures from 3 of the 4 aquaculture sites we discuss here, Top: Bar Harbor Oyster Co. in Frenchman Bay. Bar Harbor Oyster Company Oyster pens float on top of the water and are flipped occasionally. ([Source: https://www.barharboroyster.com/gallery-1]; :Lower left: A line from Springtide Seaweed with kelp growing on it in upper Frenchman Bay; Lower right: A salmon pen from Cooke Aquaculture in Eastport.

On May 3rd, a cloudy Friday afternoon, our class stepped on to RV Osprey at the COA dock to take a twenty-minute boat ride to Bar Harbor Oyster Company. This would be our first look at aquaculture as a rapidly changing industry in Maine. After climbing aboard RV Osprey, Joanna Fogg, co-owner of Bar Harbor Oyster Company, dumped a cage of their “Bar Harbor Blonde” American oysters on the deck of our boat––commenting on their small, yet meaty character––we quickly became aware of the constraints to having a small shellfish aquaculture business. Businesses like these have to balance their effort between both farming and marketing strategies. We learned about the entire process from getting seed from Muscongus Bay Aquaculture to selling their oysters to restaurants on Mount Desert Island with a local food focus. Joanna explained how, because these oysters filter feed in the water column, the company does not need to invest in oyster feed or fear excess nutrient inputs. She also commented on the capital and time constraints to reach their goal of producing half a million oysters sometime in the near future, hoping that volume would allow them to accept the numerous orders they are getting in the growing market. Joanna spends a lot of time communicating with other farms and educating people about the positive attributes of shellfish aquaculture, hoping that “a rising tide will raise all ships.” She also likes the freedom of being her own boss and maintaining a connection to the waterfront, as she is a Mount Desert Island (MDI) native who spent years crewing and cooking on yachts after graduating from COA. It was this strong connection to the MDI working waterfront that brought Joanna and her husband, Jesse, to settle down and create their livelihoods in Frenchman Bay. Joanna is a hardworking aquaculturist, mother, business woman, and community member; she represents only one of three diverse oyster aquaculture farms in Frenchman Bay.

Above: Joanna Fogg discusses sea stars, a challenging predation on her oysters. They can slip into the cages as juveniles and then feast on the oysters as they grow, significantly decreasing the yield (left).

Our next stop on this boat trip was Springtide Seaweed, a 35-acre farm in Sorrento run by Sarah Redmond. As the RV Osprey approached Sarah’s vessel, the wind swiftly picked up and the waves began to rock both vessels. After tactful maneuvering to bring the boats’ hulls alongside each other, Sarah climbed aboard the RV Osprey to introduce herself inside the warmth of the cabin. Sarah Redmond explained that she was previously a gardener, and then decided to grow plants in the water, seeing seaweed as “an incredible resource that you can do almost anything with.” This represents a common argument that aquaculture is a more viable way to grow food as the amount of arable land declines. Similar to Bar Harbor Oyster Company, Sarah acknowledges the difficulty with finding sufficient capital for her business. She is often out all alone in the elements–an experience she finds quite meaningful–cutting copious amounts kelp off the ropes; seaweed is a labor of love for Sarah, and her tenacity and energy proves it.

Unfortunately, due to rigorous tending to in the winter months and the possibility of biofouling in the late spring, she leaves a quarter or half of what she has grown on the lines due to the lack of time and labor needed to harvest it. Seaweed is much newer aquaculture industry in Maine compared to hundred or thousand-year-old industries in other parts of the world, and so it has a smaller customer base compared to the more established shellfish or salmon operations. Sarah shared bags full of her fresh kelp as well as her hopes for the future of the industry. She wants the industry to expand so that more people are able to appreciate the nutritious and purifying properties of kelp, as well as provide diversified livelihoods for coastal community. She expressed that her biggest concern for aquaculture in Maine is private ownership of the ocean; as soon as it gets consolidated, it won’t be so unique. Sarah hopes that kelp will contribute to communities economic and social well-being, by staying individually owned; which may act as a protection mechanism from industrial-scale operations coming in and consolidating local businesses, as in the case of salmon aquaculture (more on that soon).

Above: Sarah Redmond approaching the RV Osprey in her boat, and showing a piece of sugar kelp (right).  [Photo credit: Truth Muller]

Throughout this afternoon on the boat, the complexities of aquaculture as a developing industry became more and more apparent. It is both a way to maintain a connection to the working waterfront and the water and an attempt to grow food more sustainably, attracting people from diverse backgrounds. However, it does not exist in a vacuum; wild fisheries, cruise ships, recreational purposes are all other activities tied to the same body of water. Therefore, there are varying perspective about aquaculture.

In addition to our class aquaculture boat trip, the two of us have had the opportunity to engage with aquaculturists at their on-land processing facilities. Fiona de Koning, who we interviewed for an oral histories project for the course, touched on many of the social perceptions of aquaculture. Her background is slightly different than the other people we talked to, as she and her husband moved to Maine in 2005 from the Netherlands to expand their family-run bottom-culture mussel aquaculture business. Family tradition is the central component of their practices. At the same time, they are very conscious of how their business fits into the community and the multiple stakeholders in the aquaculture industry. While both the kelp and oyster aquaculture are grown near the surface of the water, either on ropes or in cages, bottom culture does not have any visible markers on the water, besides a few brightly colored buoys to mark where the commercial lease sits at the bottom. Acknowledging that each working waterfront stakeholder has different needs, struggles, and impacts, Fiona engages with work on committees such as the Executive Committee for Frenchman Bay Partners, Maine Shellfish and Aquaculture Advisory Councils, and the Bar Harbor Marine Resources Committee. As a small business owner, Fiona encourages strengthening the aquaculture sector in Maine by sharing knowledge with other independent aquaculturist.

Our final experience with Maine aquaculture came on May 18th, during our “Downeast Field Trip” when our class loaded onto Pier Pressure, a whale watch boat owned by Butch Harris. As we set off from the Eastport dock, the sun soaked our faces and wind swirled around us on the boat. We were also accompanied by Chris Bartlett, who has close connections to Eastport’s working waterfront, as a Marine Extension Associate for the University of Maine’s Sea Grant. Chris introduced us to Butch, and gave us background on the salmon aquaculture pens that we were fast approaching. The eighteen net pens located near Eastport are owned by Cooke Aquaculture, a New Brunswick, Canada, based international salmon aquaculture corporation, which is also the only current salmon aquaculture firm in Maine. Salmon aquaculture is technical with a precise grow-out environment. Plastic tubes are stretched across the water from a floating building that stores feed to each pen; feed is regulated based on monitored fish activity to ensure they are not overfeeding them. The net-pens and tubes make this form of aquaculture much more visible than the operations we saw in Frenchman Bay. There are strict regulations on waste inputs, net pen structural integrity, and disease control/prevention. Based on these needs, this form of aquaculture requires a great amount of capital and time to properly maintain–even more than other aquaculture businesses do. According to the Executive Director at the Sunrise County Economic Council, Charles Rudelitch, these attributes made salmon aquaculture along the coast of Maine more susceptible to monopolization. There are many voices and stories that can reflect on the transition from small family run farms to the now corporate owned farms with each one having their own unique reasons. Butch’s family once ran a salmon farm, but after that family business closed, he went on to diversify his livelihood through the fishing and tourism sectors.

eastport-cooke-aquaculture

Above: A row of cages at one of Cooke Aquaculture’s three lease sites off of Eastport, ME. This one has 18 pens. Nets are to keep birds and seals from getting to the fish and are changed every six months to prohibit biofouling. Viewing the pens from Butch Harris’ boat Pier Pressure. [Photo credit: Truth Muller]

Our experiences with oyster, mussel, seaweed, and salmon aquaculture systems throughout the term provided us with a diverse array of perspectives to incorporate into our own views of aquaculture. Following each visit, our classmates dove into intense discussion regarding each form of aquaculture. Our peers were inspired by new concepts of protein growth, disheartened by the need for immense capital, and intrigued by the industrialization of aquaculture. Looking toward the future of aquaculture, there will have to be spaces for people who have differing perspectives of aquaculture to engage and have conversations.

We would like to thank all of the people who took their time to talk with us about aquaculture and those who welcomed us to their farms!

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Rockweed: A Growing Industry Potentially Cut Short

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of posts from students in the class Fisheries, Fishermen, and Fishing Communities, or as the students say, Fish, Fish, Fish.  This class is co-taught be me and my colleague Natalie Springuel, a Maine Sea Grant marine extension associate based out of COA. One of the assignments was to do an outreach piece that could have a public side. In addition to blogposts, students are helping to contribute to the coastal conversations radio show on WERU and contribution to the downeast fisheries trail website – Chris Petersen

Camden Hunt 

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Picture it. You’re on the coast of Maine, walking along the shore. It’s foggy. The waves crash and fill the air with briny aroma. The rocks are slick and covered in long fronds of seaweed, deep green and knotted with air bubbles. Believe it or not, that seaweed–rockweed–has recently caused some pretty heated legal debates.
On March 28, Ross v. Acadian Seaplants received a ruling: the Maine Supreme Judicial Court decided that rockweed (Ascophyllum nodosum) was not a fish, but rather a plant. This seems clear enough. However, because rockweed is not a fish, the court ruled that it belonged to the upland land owner and therefore was not public trust. Why? The Colonial Ordinance of 1641-1647.
The Colonial Ordinance, a piece of legislature created when Maine was still part of Massachusetts, states that the intertidal belongs to the crown–or, is privately owned–with exception to “fishing, fowling, and navigation.” Since we’ve established that rockweed is a plant, and is not a fish, then harvesting rockweed is not considered “fishing,” and thus can not be performed in private property. The Ross v. Acadian Seaplants document itself states that Maine has previously had problems clearly defining the intertidal as public or private, and actually also states that the ruling does not regard all intertidal land, only the rockweed that grows within it, if it is indeed privately owned.

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COA students censusing a rockweed bed on Bar Island in October 2018. The author is wearing a yellow vest.

So what actually counts as “fishing” then? According to this ruling, the divide separates animals from plants. Anything that’s an animal can be freely harvested (within state regulation) within the intertidal, but anything that’s a plant cannot–this creates its own problems, as many protest this ruling because rockweed isn’t necessarily a plant, but rather an algae. In an older case, the Supreme Court used where something got its nutrition from as the divide: if it got most of its nutrients from the water in the intertidal, it was publicly owned, but if it got its nutrients from the land within the intertidal, it was privately owned. Confusing, right?
The Maine Supreme Court, however, doesn’t think so. Now, if I wanted to harvest rockweed from a specific patch of intertidal land, I would have to ask permission from the landowner. Some think that this ruling itself is unfair and unfounded. Based on the equal footing doctrine of the U.S Constitution, each state should be created equal to all others; thus, it shouldn’t have to act under the laws of a state it was once a part of. Or, in this case, Maine does not actually have to act under the Colonial Ordinance–of Massachusetts–if and only if the state legislature decides to reject it; alternatively, the equal footing doctrine could be interpreted to mean that Maine shouldn’t act under any Massachusetts law because, as a new state, they should create their own. So what does all this mean for the rockweed fishery? Nobody really knows.

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Green crab (Carcinus maenus) on rockweed at night

If the ruling is set in stone, what next? Hypothetically, fisheries like marine worms or scallops are safe because the state defines fisheries broadly–regardless of species/method. So, fishing should be safe so long as the fisherman is harvesting an animal, not a plant.
Some within the industry fear a rockweed apocalypse; they think that with this ruling, the industry will collapse into itself and cease to exist, destroying many jobs and local economic stimulation. Some fear the decision will create an odd power dynamic between landowner and harvester, where landowners demand payment for harvest from what is now considered their land. Others praise the ruling, fearing unsustainable harvest of rockweed and misuse of resources. Others still think the ruling will have little, if any, impact on the industry, as fishermen and landowners have historically had good relationships.

rockweedseaSo what actually will happen? Only time will tell. Until then, all we can do is watch and see. And value that beautiful, brown seaweed that covers Maine’s shore.

 

 

References
Ross v Acadian Seaplants Ltd., 2019 ME 45, Was-17-142, March 28th 2019.
Delogu, O., Maine’s Beaches/Intertidal Lands are Public Property: The 1986/1989 Bell Cases Got it Wrong [lecture]
“The Thorny Issue of Rockweed.” The Ellsworth American. 4 Apr. 2019.
http://www.ellsworthamerican.com/opinions/editorials/the-thorny-issue-of-rockweed

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Midsummer – and where are all of my students?

Its summer break at COA, we still have about six weeks before classes start, and I’ve been catching up with my advisees who are all over the place at the moment, as best I can tell in addition to the U.S. – Ireland, Norway, Italy, Spain, India (or maybe Kenya), Costa Rica, and some going off to Japan before the end of the summer. I think three are on offshore islands, and at least three are within a couple of hours drive down the coast of Maine. None of them are in town at the moment. As best as I can tell I currently have 17 advisees, and #18 is coming in the fall. Most of the time I know where most of them are, although I don’t think I’ve heard from three of them this summer but least for two I know what country they are in (okay that could be wrong, Morgan might still be in Spain). They are all adults, so I’m not responsible for them, and if I don’t know where they are its not as embarrassing as losing one of your kids in the Newark airport (don’t ask).

But they are a great group, and so I asked them all to write a quick summary of what they were up to and send a picture (if their internet was good enough, not so great when you are on a rock 25 miles offshore). I last did this over Christmas break, and I think this gives a good cross section of what COA students do doing the summer. Some of it is very dramatic and fits into a classic school bragging model of “look at all of our students are doing these awesome programs hither and yon”. And yes, some of them are doing exactly that. But others are doing other work, some of it very hard to define, but I think similarly meaningful for them, and some are recharging by spending time at home, with family and friends, or traveling, so I wanted to include all of them. It makes it long, but it seems both more honest for what our students do but also more honest for the variety of things that we honor. I can very honestly say that I am proud of all of them and think they all pretty much rock, and some of them even make me laugh. Yes, even Maxim. Each of them also has a very short bio and a picture on my faculty webpage.

Trying to figure out how to talk about 17 very different people is hard, I’m not quite sure where to start, so I’m going to go with my single graduate student, Abby Barrows. Abby stays busy. Her second co-authored publication, on microplastics in the Hudson River, was just published and she is currently working on three more papers (that she has told me about), a couple of them from her work with Adventure Scientists, as well as a couple of public policy pieces for use by the plastic pollution community. Meanwhile she is running an oyster aquaculture farm on Deer Isle, Maine. Mostly I just try to keep up. We are currently working on a worldwide marine microplastics paper, that we hope to have done by sometime in early/mid fall. She wants it done sooner.

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I would say that four of my students fit a relatively traditional field ecology research summer internship. Two of them, Teagan White and Emma Ober, are out at COA’s Mount Desert Rock doing their own research projects while also taking part in the long-term data collection on marine mammals and birds out there. Teagan is looking at current patterns around the rock as her senior project , and doing water samples at the same time when she isn’t honing her carpentry or zodiac driving skills. Emma just finished her first year and is doing an internship with Allied Whale, which means she spends half her time in Bar Harbor and half on Mount Desert Rock. One the rock she is helping with the general research on seals (and seal wounds), birds, and whales. She is also doing her own research project …”looking at the abundances of crab parasites on the island. This study is an extensions of Alyssa Murad’s senior project and I am hoping to compare my results from the island to what she found on the mainland”. Emma is also going to be one of my teaching assistants for marine biology in the fall.

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glass frog in Costa Rica

The other two researchers, Xochitl Ortiz Ross and Katie Clark, are off doing field research funded by the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU). Last summer Xochitl was in the Rockies studying marmots on an REU, this summer she is wading through streams in Costa Rica at La Selva through the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) looking for glass frogs. These frogs lay their eggs on leaves, but then the hatching tadpoles need water, so these species lay their eggs on leaves over streams. It is total Animal Planet wonderfulness. Xochitl is looking at differences in oviposition site use by different species of frogs, and gets the award for most awesome picture (I am biased, I studied parental behavior in fishes for a good chunk of my research life).

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katie-group-field-data-2017Meanwhile, Katie is working at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Edgewater, Maryland. At SERC, she is working in the Marine Invasions Lab looking at oyster larvae settlement success at various densities and how it might affect population dynamics for a species that is critical in the rehabilitation of this ecosystem.

Okay, time for a break from straight up research. I’m not sure exactly how to define what Maxim Lowe and Rose Edwards are doing this summer. Both are seniors. Both have more broad skills and interests than I can imagine. Both love art and communication. Rose loves biology. Maxim loves eating. I guess I’ll go with the job titles and places. Maxim is working at the Cannery in South Penobscot, and here is his description: “a former canning factory turned into community arts space by local artist Leslie Ross. Leslie is a professional bassoon maker and sound artist. She is turning the building into a venue for concerts, open mics, and long-term installations. This intersection of community and art is precisely the kind of magic I hope to engage and create throughout my life; so, this summer, I am Leslie’s right hand”. Maxim has been working on graphics, websites, social media and developing the space. He is also working on his own art that he hopes to display there. Meanwhile, Rose is in Southern Maine, living and working on Cliff Island Maine for Cliff Island ACE– where ACE stands for athletics, conservation, and eduation (I had to look that up). Rose puts on community events, which mostly means things for kids, like cooking nights, sandcastle competitions (I’ve included a picture), sports, games, crafts, and more. “I’m living in a tiny cabin by the ocean with no electricity or plumbing (but with a stellar view) with another COA student, Grace Brown. She is working for ACE’s invasive species management program.” Interestingly, both of them sent pictures of houses where they are this summer, to see what they look like, you should check out their pictures on the advisee web site, however, Maxim just sends me pictures of him eating food. Rose will begin co-editing/writing this blogpost starting in the fall (perhaps with a Cliff Island post?).  The final picture below is from Rose, its from a sand castle event, and she calls it green crab on barbecue.  Hmmm.

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I have three students that are interested in veterinary medicine, a senior, Renate Braathen, is doing an internship at Beech Hill farm this summer, where she says “It’s fun to be part of a small crew, and I’m learning a lot about food production and organic farming”. Renate will be finishing up at COA this fall working on her senior project, co-advised by a philosopher and a physicist pair that includes a field guide to Archimedean Geometry. Two other pre-vet students, Siobhan Rickert and Amruta Valiyaveetil are spending the summer working with vets in a range of settings. Siobhan, another senior, has been working for the third summer in a row for an emergency vet cline in San Francisco, but has been feeling the pressure of getting ready to do her senior project this fall in Chile comparing different approaches to veterinary medicine. This might account for the slightly scary cat photo. As she said in her email “In all honestly most of my summer has been me staring at my computer working on vet school apps and my senior project which doesn’t make for the most entertaining pictures”.

Meanwhile, Amruta is doing very cool stuff, but doesn’t communicate unless she is sitting in front of me. This spring she did a residency in India, one of our non-traditional ways to do a term, where she combined several ideas to study veterinary medicine in Mumbai, and then was planning to go to Kenya to work with on elephant veterinary medicine. I know she is still alive because she registered for classes for the fall, but like I said, she isn’t sitting in front of me. Needless to say, no cute elephant pictures for the blog.

I also have two students that are doing work in environmental education. Nick Tonti is working as an Outdoor Education Instructor for the Maria Mitchell Association in Nantucket. In addition to taking kids around the island, mixing marine biology, policy, and citizen science Nick is also doing a research project on how the strength of byssal threads in mussels are affected by water temperature. Nick is going to spend his junior year at St. Andrews in Scotland taking classes, before coming back and practicing weird Scottish accents on all of us. Meanwhile another third year student, Heather Sieger took off to County Kerry, Ireland, to intern with Sea Synergy Marine Awareness & Activity Centre (hmm, another accent possibility).  Heather is going to continue to be one of my workstudy research assistants this fall, along with Rose.

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My two Knox County advisees have particularly quiet this summer. Morgan Heckerd was off in June to do the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage with some family and then I think by herself, and I assume she is back in Camden, Maine, where she was going to spend the rest of the summer changing things up and working at a restaurant and sailing. The last two summers Morgan has been on Monhegan Island working more than full time at a farm and at a bed and breakfast. Meanwhile Kenya Perry is somewhere near Camden as well, working away but keeping away from any electronic communication while she figures out her senior project in nutrition.

bianca summer 2017My last three advisees are my new advisees who have just finished their first year. All of them went back ‘home’, Bianca Massacci went back to Sardinia, where she has been catching up with friends and family, and has been spending some time at the university talking to people about internship opportunities in biology and environmental engineering for next summer. Chantal Tonnessen Smeland is back in Norway catching up after a concussion in the fall set her back a bit, but she is getting caught up over the summer when she isn’t reading, drawing, getting out into nature, or finding ways to protest neo-nazis in Norway and I’m looking forward to having her back at full speed this fall.

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Chantal reading material (not light) and drawings

Last but not least,

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Allie has been working and traveling this summer and just got back to me, and if I’m getting the details right she has been working at home and looking after disabled children, and had travels that include Florida, Maine (and into Canada), and Wyoming. I don’t think they teach geography in Colorado schools,because these places are really far apart. She also really likes snails.

So, although I think these guys are exceptional, I also think they are representative, with the strong caveat that there is a pretty strong bias for biology and ocean stuff, which isn’t too surprising for advisees of a professor of biology that works on marine organisms.

So, where am I this summer.  Below is a picture of Helen and me paddling yesterday morning on Lobster Lake.  Hope everyone is having a good summer.  Chris  7/26/17

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Chris Petersen is Associate Academic Dean, Director of Graduate Studies, and Professor of Evolutionary Ecology, Marine Biology and Policy at College of the Atlantic and wonders if any of those titles come with extra work.

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Turbulent Times

This month, a story from a COA alum who has gone on to research marine ecology beyond Frenchman Bay. Eliza Oldach (class of 2015) has recently returned from a Fulbright project in New Zealand, where she studied coastal ecology with the Marine Ecology Research Group at University of Canterbury. For more of her stories on science and New Zealand, check out her blog, Zeacology.


The shaking woke me up, as it did everyone.

In the early hours of November 14th, New Zealand was rocked by a 7.8 magnitude quake, the biggest felt in the country since 1855. It caused serious damage across a swathe of the country from Wellington to Kaikoura, and serious alarm for the rest. In the days and weeks following the quake, national attention was fixed on the areas with the most extreme damage and the greatest need for emergency aid.

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Faults ruptured in November quake (credit: GNS Science).

Biological and geological systems were just as disrupted as human ones. The emergency scientific response followed closely on the heels of humanitarian aid, as biologists and geologists hurried to impacted areas to document the quake’s effect on natural systems.

One of the most immediately obvious effects was a significant amount of coastal uplift. Shifting fault lines had pushed rock above the ocean, lifting areas that were previously underwater and visibly altering coastlines. The University of Canterbury’s Marine Ecology Research Group (MERG), my host for the year, followed these updates closely. Some of our field sites were in the center of the uplifted zones, and we hurried to get to those sites and record the changes to coastal ecology as soon as possible.

We mapped out points along the coast to visit, choosing bays that had experienced a range of uplift intensity to understand responses to varying levels of disturbance. In addition to establishing new plots in these areas, however, we also wanted to return to the places where we’d sampled before. Over twenty years ago, researchers from MERG had established long-term monitoring sites at three sites along the coast— Cape Campbell, Kaikoura, and Moeraki. By returning to these sites and repeating sampling every season for several decades, MERG had established a robust baseline of the seaweed community. We knew that severe uplift along the coast would impact seaweeds, and by returning to areas where we had baseline data we’d be able to provide detailed evidence of those changes.

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The Kaikoura coast, pre- and post-quake (credit: NASA Earth Observatory Images by Joshua Stevens)

In the week following the earthquake, I joined the sampling trip to our site at Cape Campbell (north of Kaikoura– see map, above) . With the roads south of the Cape closed, the normal route from Christchurch was impassable. Instead, I hopped on a puddle jumper to Blenheim, and was met by my labmate Shawn to drive to the Cape from the north.

Changes to the coastline were visible even on our drive out to the field site. Rock platforms usually tucked below tide were well above water. When we ventured out onto those platforms, gumboots on and quadrats in hand, the changes were even more dramatic.

The reef had lost its color. The dominant seaweed, Hormosira, usually forms an olive-hued cover over much of the rock, interspersed with purple Lophothamnion, bright green Ulva, and ruby-brown Champia. This time, the Hormosira was brown and crisped from sun exposure. The Lophothamnion was dark and scraggly, and the Champia had gone completely clear. Underlying turfs and encrusting corallines, usually a healthy pink crust beneath the seaweed canopies, had bleached to a sickly white. It looked like a seaweed graveyard.

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Stark changes in the reef community (credit: EO).

We continued out along the rock platforms, traveling from the Hormosira zone to lower elevations. Here, Hormosira should be replaced by subtidal seaweed species, the massive Durvilleae and Carpophyllum. This time, those subtidal seaweeds were still present, but ailing—the Durvilleae changing from golden to dark brown, the Carpophyllum blackened and crisped.

We started looking for our historic survey sites, unsure whether the marker bolts had survived the quakes. A few moments of searching revealed them, completely intact, their pink zip ties a bright marker against the new brown and white cast of the reef. We threw down a quadrat, and knelt to assess the scene in more detail. Some water was held in the cracks and pits of the rock, and in those places the seaweeds maintained their structure and color. Predominantly, though, they were out of any water cover, left to dry and wither in the sun. We also noticed a lack of invertebrates in the plots. Usually, the seaweed is crawling with Lunella and Melagraphia snails, a smattering of crabs, perhaps the odd sea slug. Now, A few limpets held on to areas protected by seaweed canopy, and anemones hunkered down in pits in the rock, but other than that it was an empty scene.

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Paul amidst bleached corallines and blackened Durv (credit: EO).

There was another obvious change, too. Normally, our trips to Cape Campbell have to be carefully timed. The species we study exist in a narrow slice of time and space between high tide and low. More often than not, we were chased back to land by the rising tide before we’ve finished all of our surveys.

No longer. On the post-quake visit, we spent hours on the reef. We finished our surveys for the day, moved on to collect more data and set up new permanent plots, messed about with oxygen probes and temperature loggers, stopped to share coffee from a thermos—and still the rising tide hadn’t covered our sites.

Small wonder, then, that the seaweeds were stressed and the invertebrates had vanished. These species have adapted to life in specific conditions—they can handle a moderate amount of sun and wind exposure, but they’re already on the physiological brink. A lift of even 30 centimeters increases the amount of time intertidal organisms have to withstand heat and desiccation stress. At Cape Campbell, the amount of lift was estimated to be closer to two meters.

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Shawn and Paul survey the dying Durv zone (credit: EO).

I thought I’d be prepared for these changes, but I wasn’t. Seeing the Cape, changed as it was, was shocking. My research mates agreed. Paul South, seaweed aficionado, had travelled from Nelson to help Shawn and I for the day. He was surprised by the state of the reef, too, comparing it to an atmosphere that’s suddenly lost most of its oxygen.

“Which would you prefer?” he asked us. “To lose 100% of the atmosphere’s oxygen all at once and be dead immediately, or to be down to 40% oxygen and hang on for a slow decline?”

Looking at the stressed reef around us, the metaphor struck home. It was a grim image, this decline of seaweed communities that were once rich with life.

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The reef, as of January. Lots of Ulva, but no canopy species (credit: Shawn Gerrity).

Since I’ve returned to the States, MERG researchers have continued their sampling trips out to the reefs at Cape Campbell and Kaikoura.  I’ve been following along, taking breaks from the upended politics in this country to check in on the upended reefs in New Zealand. Intertidal communities are still in a state of flux. By now, most of the large canopy-forming seaweeds like Hormosira, Durvilleae, and Carpophyllum have died off completely in the zones they used to dominate. They’ve been replaced by large swathes of weedy Ulva. Bleached coralline turfs are beginning now to break off of the mudstone substrate of the rocky reefs, and the exposed stone is increasingly eroding into a fine silt that coats the intertidal zone. Dead algae is washing up in mats of wrack along the coastline. And the invertebrates? Some limpets remain, and feast readily on the abundant Ulva, but the highly diverse invertebrate communities that existed pre-quake have disappeared— after all, there’s no habitat for them to recolonize. In the most recent update, MERG researchers put it this way: “no obvious ‘recovery’ is happening anywhere so far.”

The changes that have occurred in the seaweed communities are troubling in their own right, but also have consequences for the related human communities, and particularly for the communities of Kaikoura. Kaikoura’s economy rests largely on fishing and tourism, and the uplift throws the future of these industries into question. Key fishery species, like paua (abalone) and crayfish, relied on healthy seaweed forests that have disappeared. Now these species’ populations are at risk. Tourism was hampered on land by the damage to roads into and out of Kaikoura, but it’s been threatened at sea, too: uplift in Kaikoura’s harbor has made it impossible for the popular whale watch boats to access the marina except at high tide. Since the quakes, some progress has been made. Fishery closures are beginning to lift, roads are opening for traffic at specific times of day, and the whale watch is operating tours on a limited basis. Still, the dramatic change to the coastline has been sorely felt by local communities.

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Dredging Kaikoura’s harbor to allow ship passage (credit: Shawn Gerrity).

According to ecological theory, the new intertidal zone will develop again into stable, diverse seaweed communities if given enough time. Human infrastructure, too, will likely be rebuilt to a functional state, if given enough funding. One could predict that, in a few years or decades, the coastal communities of Kaikoura and Cape Campbell will have fully “recovered”.

But in observing the earthquake and its impacts, it’s impossible not to be reminded of the future facing our coastlines. In the coming decades, coastal communities will be subject to an unrelenting slew of physical changes just as stressful as the uplift— sea level rise, sea temperature warming, stronger hurricanes, lengthier droughts, and on and on and on. And I think, just as with the earthquake, we’ll see those changes reverberate back and forth between ecological communities and human ones. In a point of crisis, those connections will become more evident than ever.

But maybe there’s a role for human ecologists to identify those links before the crisis point is reached, and start now to provide data and policy and communication and art to reveal and strengthen them. And maybe that knowledge will help contribute to resilience when these crises arrive. I really don’t know— but maybe.

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