March 23, 2019
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Caco Bay advocates at the ‘cutting edge’ of research, call for new statewide advisory group

Seth Koenig | BDN
Seth Koenig | BDN
A researcher for Friends of Casco Bay tests the pH levels of the mud in Mill Cove in South Portland, across the harbor from downtown Portland, in this BDN file photo.

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — For more than two decades, researchers from the group Friends of Casco Bay have been testing water at 22 locations from South Portland to Brunswick regularly.

They have tested temperature, salinity, acidity, oxygen, nitrogen and other levels to gauge the health of the bay environment.

But staff scientist Mike Doan said those readings, taken at each spot once or twice every month, weren’t enough.

Now, Doan has access to hourly readings that help provide a more complete picture of what’s happening off southern Maine’s coast. The Friends of Casco Bay are setting out for a series of talks to tell the public what they’re learning and to call for a state law that will bring together some of the region’s top experts to focus on the future of Maine’s marine life.

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“Climate change was happening so rapidly, we really needed to add to the way we collected data,” said Doan, who noted that on average, the waters of Casco Bay are 2.5 degrees warmer now than 25 years ago. “[The levels are] are so variable, just day-to-day, even morning-to-afternoon.”

About three years ago, the group placed an underwater probe called a sonde in the ocean off Cousins Island, where it gathers data around the clock all year long.

Over that time, Doan said researchers have been able to more acutely track spikes and drops in the water’s saturation of calcium carbonate — more simply, the foundational chemical compound that makes up the shells on shellfish, among other things in the ocean.

But putting those spikes and drops into a greater context — how they relate to the life cycles of shellfish and other sea creatures, for instance — demands collaboration with other scientists in other fields of study, he said.

[Shellfish harvesters plagued by acidic ‘dead muds’]

That’s where the bill LD 1284 comes into play. Sponsored by Rep. Lydia Blume, D-York, the bill would establish a science and policy advisory council on the impact of climate change on Maine’s marine species.

Such a council was recommended in 2015 by a study commission empowered by the Legislature the previous year, but the effort was left unfunded by then-Gov. Paul LePage.

A group of volunteers formed the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Partnership in its absence. But Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca said that although the nascent group helped build relationships, it had no consistent funding or standing in Augusta to make policy recommendations.

[Farming clams in Maine could help save them from climate change]

Frignoca said her organization hopes new Gov. Janet Mills, who has called climate change a “top priority” for her administration, will embrace the advisory council in some form.

“What Mike is learning is cutting-edge science,” Frignoca said. “We definitely have some of the top researchers in the country, maybe even the world. But there’s only so much a volunteer effort can do, and our commercial fisheries are too important not to have a coordinated statewide effort.”

Frignoca and Doan will talk about their group’s research and advocacy efforts at three public talks, starting Monday at 5:30 p.m. at the Portland Public Library. The second talk will be held at Jewett Hall at Southern Maine Community College at 5:30 p.m. on March 25, while the final one will be at the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick on April 9 at 5:30 p.m.

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