Editor’s Note: The Portland Press Herald recently published a disheartening report, Mayday. Gulf of Maine in Distress, about the rapid decline of water conditions in the Gulf of Maine. Neptune 911 encourages readers to click the links posted on the referenced report that is part of a series that discusses the changes taking place
The following excerpt is from Part 1 published Oct. 25, 2015:
Big changes are occurring
in one of the fastest-warming spots on Earth
Sandwiched on a narrow sandbar between Yarmouth’s harbor and the open Gulf of Maine, the fishermen of Yarmouth Bar have long struggled to keep the sea at bay.
Nineteenth-century storms threatened to sweep the whole place away, leaving Yarmouth proper’s harbor more open to the elements, prompting the province to build a granite cribwork across the quarter-mile bar, behind which the hamlet’s fishing fleet docks. Global warming has brought rising seas, a two-story-high rock wall to fight them and the hamlet’s designation as one of the communities in the province most threatened by climate change.
Now, snaking around the snout of Nova Scotia and into the Gulf of Maine is a new, unseen threat to Yarmouth Bar and hundreds of coastal communities in Maine, eastern New England and the Maritimes: currents fueling the rapid warming of of the sea.
The Gulf of Maine – which extends from Cape Cod in Massachusetts to Cape Sable at the southern tip of Nova Scotia, and includes the Bay of Fundy, the offshore fishing banks, and the entire coast of Maine – has been warming rapidly as the deep-water currents that feed it have shifted. Since 2004 the gulf has warmed faster than anyplace else on the planet, except for an area northeast of Japan, and during the “Northwest Atlantic Ocean heat wave” of 2012 average water temperatures hit the highest level in the 150 years that humans have been recording them.
As a result, many native species – boreal and subarctic creatures at the southern edges of their ranges – are in retreat. Lobsters populations have been shifting northward and out to sea along our coast as they’ve abandoned Long Island Sound almost entirely. Many of other commercially important bottom-dwelling fish – including cod, pollock and winter flounder – have been withdrawing from Maine and into the southwestern part of the gulf, where the bottom water is cooler.
“We’re really in the crosshairs of climate change right now,” says Andy Pershing, chief scientific officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, who first revealed the alarming pace of the gulf’s recent warming.
For two years running, Maine’s northern shrimp fishery has been closed for lack of shrimp. Endangered right whales have virtually stopped visiting the waters off Lubec and Grand Manan because the tiny cold-loving copepods that they feed on – as do herring and, indirectly, almost everything else in the gulf – are in short supply there.
Warm-water invaders are gaining a toehold, and those that already had one are taking over. Green crab populations exploded in 2012 and 2013, extirpating soft-shell clams from vast areas of mudflats and stripping the northern parts of Casco Bay of their life-sustaining eelgrass meadows, which have yet to recover. Blue crabs, a species normally identified with the sultry Chesapeake, have appeared in lobster traps and in southwestern Nova Scotia have started making themselves at home. Asian shore crabs now dominate the shores of seacoast New Hampshire. Ugly, bottom-smothering sea squirts have spread across the seafloor all the way to Eastport, displacing the animals that the gulf’s sea creatures actually want to eat.
“The main message is that fish are definitely on the move,” says Michael Fogarty, chief of the ecosystem assessment program at the National Fisheries Service’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. “There’s no doubt about that, and it has ramifications for fishermen and the ecosystem.”
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