Citizen for Science! Gulf of Maine
Our oceans are changing dramatically, and the Gulf of Maine has changed more than almost any other region on earth. Sadly, traditional funding sources for such research have nearly disappeared. That is why we are seeking funds to support our ten-week scientific expedition this coming summer. Our expedition will target remote sites in eastern Maine quantitatively sampled by Adey over 50 years ago. In many cases these sites have not been sampled since. This research will be possible with the incomparable research vessel, the Alca i. A three-masted motor schooner built and designed by Adey, the Alca i. is a floating laboratory and dive platform which can support seven scientists in remote locations for weeks at a time. Your donations will help support these researchers while at sea and defray the running costs of this expedition.
The Maine Coast has been a rich marine resource for humans for thousands of years, but has undergone profound and accelerating changes over the past several centuries. Large cod, which were hyper-abundant in the early 20th century, have essentially disappeared from our coasts. In their place, lobsters have become not only the iconic symbol of New England but also the rock bottom of support for many coastal communities. Now even these tasty and valuable crustaceans face an uncertain future. Beginning in the late 1990s, warming coastal waters have created the perfect conditions for the spread of lobster shell rot disease, resulting in the near total collapse of the lobster fishery in southern New England. Recently, shell rot disease has spread into Maine, putting the state’s most valuable fishery at risk. At the same time, overharvesting has led to the collapse of the primary herbivore in Maine, the green sea urchin. Without these once-abundant grazers, areas which were once barren grounds have suddenly become productive kelp beds. We are now in a completely novel ecosystem; large finfish and urchins are rare. Kelp beds have expanded and rising temperatures may threaten Maine’s iconic lobster fishery.
To understand our coastal ecosystem, we need to look at all the components, and seaweed communities are the base of coastal food webs. Not only do changes in their abundance and species composition reflect local conditions, but kelp beds directly influence species further up the food chain. Additionally, certain species of long-lived calcified algae can be used as environmental proxies, telling us about water temperatures at that specific spot over the past several centuries.
Our goal is to determine how the coast of Maine has changed over the past several decades, and make predictions about its future. We will do this by closely examining the seaweed and invertebrate communities. As economical as this small team of scientists will be, the ten-week scientific expedition requires supplies such as fuel, food, sampling gear as well as basic support for Alca i. Your contribution to this important and worthwhile project will help the world better comprehend the role of seaweeds in regulating nearshore fisheries, and how they adapt to global warming.
I’ll vouch for you…
A new day brings some new crew members and some much appreciated help. Two of Walter’s former students have come aboard to be apart of the expedition and assist with sample processing, cooking and other daily duties. And a good thing too – we’re finding substantial differences in the flora between now and the 1970s. While this is both exciting and more than a little worrisome, it invited professional criticism that ‘maybe you aren’t identifying species correctly’. We’re proactively defending against such criticisms by starting a collection of voucher specimens. These vouchers are basically preserved individual specimens with the name of the collector, the location collected and the person who identified it written on a card in permanent ink. If further down the road someone questions our results we can point them to our vouchers. If they’re particularly persnickety they can run the DNA themselves (DNA samples are expensive and time consuming to run, particularly when you have thousands of specimens from each region).
Vouchers aren’t particularly hard to make, but each one takes time – time we have in short supply. Thank goodness ofr our new helpers, who are not only keen to assist but who have substantial experience identifying and processing seaweeds. Oh, and as much as I like to cook I can finally take a break from cooking duties too. Double win!
We’ll be in Gouldsboro Bay for another 3 or 4 days before heading east to Schoodic and Acadia National Park to continue our sampling. It’s been raining off and on and patches of fog have obscured our dive sites at times but so far our good luck with the weather has held. Just under a week until I get a bona fide break!
(From earlier last week)
Cast-off…. but first we had to change a lightbulb…
We are officially underway! Currently we are in Penobscot Bay between Isleboro Island and Cape Rosier at a respectable 8.2 knots. Seas are calm, skies clear and the forecast is solid for the next 72 hours. Baring any setbacks we should anchor in Blue Hill Bay shortly after lunchtime, at which point we’ll commence diving and data collection.
But before we could get here this morning, we had to change a lightbulb. A pretty routine task, yes, but made a bit more difficult when said lightbulb is the running light which sits atop your mast. Instead of hauling the sheet we hoisted a guy (rigger) up the mast in a harness. A few minutes aloft and we discovered it wasn’t the bulb after all. Oh well - our engineer Tim’s chasing down the short while we’re underway, and hopefully it will be fixed by the time we get there. So it goes with life aboard a boat.
Time for me to focus on the science. Next stop - Swan’s Island.
I've been asked to clarify what 'Citizens for Science' is and how these funds will be spent.
'Citizens for Science' is the group I started with support from Walter Adey and a few others. Presently it exists as the fundraising arm for this summer's scientific expedition, and for connecting with the public about what we do. In the future 'Citizens for Science' may evolve into the public face of our science projects, but we'll see how that goes after this summer.
Every donation given here (as well as those given off-site) goes towards funding this summer's expedition. As the campaign manager, that means the funds first go to me, and then I pay for the various expedition expenses. Our largest expenses this summer will include fuel, insurance, food, dive equipment and harboring costs for the Alca i.
We've been thrilled with the response so far and hope to reach our ultimate goal within a few weeks.
The public support for science was on full display this weekend at over 600 organized marches - hope you were able to participate.
Have friends who talk about the importance of supporting science? Send them our link - every donation made will be use this summer to document our coastal environment.