MOUNT DESERT, Maine — A startup company from Orono, with a little help from scientists at the University of Maine, is hoping marine creatures will find a place to live below where people keep their boats.
The first model of a new concrete mooring, which is meant to double as habitat for marine life, was deployed Wednesday morning in Seal Harbor just a few yards offshore from Mount Desert Island.
While a small group of people looked on, the 4,000-pound mooring, which resembles a huge gray block of Swiss cheese, was lowered under the waves at the mouth of the harbor to anchor the harbor’s “no wake” warning buoy.
“I call it a lobster nursery,” Bob Bayer, executive director of UMaine’s Lobster Institute, said of the mooring, which is being made and marketed by Wind Reef Group LLC.
The nonprofit Lobster Institute helped design the mooring, which has multiple holes of various sizes that pass from one side of the mooring through to the other. American Concrete in Veazie fabricated the mooring deployed in Seal Harbor.
The idea behind the specialized mooring is to provide places for young lobsters to hide from predators, according to Stewart Hardison, founder and principal of Wind Reef Group. He said that though there already is a lot of existing habitat for lobster, under rocks and even other types of moorings, having additional habitat can only help.
Lobster stocks in the Gulf of Maine are believed to be robust, but about 15 percent of lobsters in the gulf are believed to wander continuously between rocks and crevices, looking for places to hide, Hardison said. These lobsters don’t reproduce because they are focused on trying to find shelter, he said.
“Right now, the Maine lobster population is doing OK, but things could change very fast,” Hardison said. He noted that regulators last week considered a five-year ban on lobster fishing south of Cape Cod because of the low numbers of lobsters there.
More than 90 percent of lobsters caught in the United States comes from the Gulf of Maine. In Maine alone last year, commercial fishermen caught 75 million pounds of lobster worth more than $220 million.
Sean Murphy, Mount Desert’s harbormaster, was on hand Wednesday to weigh in on the use of the special mooring in one of the local harbors.
“I think it’s neat,” Murphy said. “Obviously, something is going to make a home in it.”
Ian Bricknell, a UMaine aquaculture biology professor who is assisting Wind Reef Group with its research, said that although the mooring design is particularly geared toward providing habitat for younger lobsters, it also could provide habitat for other species such as kelp, fish or algae. Use of such moorings could help boost not only the lobster population but in-shore biodiversity, too, he said.
“If each one of these [boats had a habitat mooring], it probably would increase the lobster population by 200 or 300,” he said of the dozens of boats in Seal Harbor.
Bayer said the holes in the mooring are geared toward sheltering smaller lobsters that are more prone to predation. He said that, with biodegradable screens placed over the hole openings, the mooring could be used as habitat for very young or “seed” lobsters.
“[Big reproducing lobsters] don’t need the shelter,” Bayer said. “It’s the little guys that do. As I look at it, you can’t have too much [habitat].”
A UM graduate student is expected to regularly monitor the mooring starting this fall to see how effective it is in providing shelter for smaller lobsters and other species, Bayer said.
According to Hardison, the particular design of the mooring deployed Wednesday would work at other sizes, ranging from 2,000 pounds to 6,500 pounds. How big a mooring people want depends largely on how big a boat they want to moor, he said.
But Wind Reef Group has other applications in mind, Hardison said. One of them is a larger, hollow concrete mooring that would be filled with ballast and used as an anchor for offshore floating wind turbines.
For now, the new habitat mooring — dubbed HMS 4000 — is being sold at Hamilton Marine for between $600 and $700, Hardison said. The Lobster Institute is expected to receive between 5 and 10 percent of the proceeds from each sale, though the exact percentage has yet to be determined.
Hardison said he has long been interested in environmental issues and is happy to have his firm help support the institute. His habitat mooring is competitively priced compared to other available types of moorings, he said, and has the extra benefit of supporting the institute and Maine lobster population.
“That’s the value-added aspect,” Hardison said.