University of Maine marine scientist Bob Steneck participated in a Florida State University-led study that recommends a paradigm shift for fisheries science and management.
The study spearheaded by FSU biology professor Joe Travis advocates that fisheries experts and managers consider how overfishing and environmental changes disrupt species interactions and alter ecosystems, including pushing some ecosystems past their tipping points.
“In order to succeed, fisheries management must focus on species interactions,” says Steneck, a professor based at UMaine’s Darling Marine Center in Walpole.
Historically, Steneck says, fisheries science has focused on population dynamics, sustainable yields and influences of biological and oceanographic processes on fisheries.
“By incorporating a more ecological approach, we argue that managers can better understand the dynamics of a fishery, and which species interactions, if affected, can push the ecosystems that house a fishery past its tipping point,” he says.
The loss of one major species from an ecosystem can have severe and unintended consequences because of the connections between that species and others in the system. These changes often occur rapidly and unexpectedly and are difficult to reverse, say the researchers.
“You don’t realize how interdependent species are until it all unravels,” says study co-author Felicia Coleman, director of Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory.
One case study looks at the collapse of sardine and anchovy stocks — partially as a result of overfishing — in the 1970s in the Northern Benguela ecosystem off Namibia. Subsequently, the far less calorie-rich bearded goby and jellyfish flourished. African penguins and gannets that had preyed on energy-rich sardines and anchovies, have suffered, say the researchers. African penguins and gannets have declined by 77 percent and 94 percent, respectively.
In addition, Cape hake and deep-water hake production plummeted from 725,000 metric tons in 1972 to 110,000 metric tons in 1990, say the researchers, and the population of Cape fur seals has dramatically fluctuated.
In Europe, Steneck points to the Atlantic cod stock’s seeming inability to rebound from overfishing. Currently, the cod’s former prey, a small fish called sprat, has become hyperabundant to the point that it preys on larval cod.
Closer to home, the decimation of cod and other large predatory species also resulted in a proliferation of sea urchins. In the late 1980s, a sea urchin fishery subsequently developed and boomed, but by the mid- to late-1990s, overfishing had decimated that industry.
With sea urchin stocks depleted, the macroalgae eaten by sea urchins increased substantially. This, in turn, created an ideal habitat for crabs, which are major predators of sea urchins.
In the same ecosystem, Steneck says declines in soft-shell clams are due to an explosion of non-native green crabs. “All of these examples result from strong ecological interactions that are not captured in most fisheries management models,” he says.
While it’s easy to write off one such case study, Travis says taken all together, the paper is a compelling case that “tipping points are real, we’ve crossed them in many ecosystems, and we’ll cross more of them unless we can get this problem under control.”
Steneck agrees. “Our paper provides case studies from all over the world illustrating how a chain of events taken with an appreciation for species interactions can contribute to complex problems in fisheries management,” he says.
The study, titled “Integrating the invisible fabric of nature into fisheries management,” was published in the Dec. 23, 2013 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Travis and Coleman say they hope the research accelerates changes in how fisheries scientists approach ecosystem problems and how fisheries managers integrate system issues into their efforts.
The researchers recommend that more effort be devoted to understanding links between species that set up tipping points in ecosystems and they advised managers be cognizant of data that indicates when a system could be approaching its tipping point.
“It’s a lot easier to back up to avoid a tipping point before you get to it than it is to find a way to return once you’ve crossed it,” Travis says.
Fishing experts generally understand how overfishing affects other species and the ecosystem as a whole but it “needs to be a bigger part of the conversation and turned into action,” Coleman says.
Seven other scientists from the University of Connecticut, University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Santa Cruz, University of Chicago, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Centre de Recherche Halieutique Méditerranéenne et Tropicale in France participated in the study.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
“The Global Politics of Food and Water” will be the theme of the 2014 Camden Conference and accompanying course offered by the University of Maine’s Division of Lifelong Learning.
The 27th annual Camden Conference will take place Feb. 21–23 in Camden and will also be part of a three-credit UMaine course with classes on Saturday, Jan. 25, March 22 and April 12.
The conference and course will explore water and food security topics from many perspectives around the world as they relate to human life, global climate change and relationships between countries.
The course will be taught by UMaine faculty G. Paul Holman, Libra Professor of International Affairs; Timothy Cole, an associate professor of political science and associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Capt. James Settele, director of the School of Policy and International Affairs. Guest lecturers will also be featured.
To receive credit, students in the course must attend all three sessions and the three-day conference in Camden or at satellite broadcast venues at the Hutchinson Center in Belfast or the Strand Theatre in Rockland.
Frederick Kirschenmann, a distinguished fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University and president of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., will be the conference’s keynote speaker. Andreas Merkl, president and CEO of Ocean Conservancy, will be the featured speaker.
The Camden Conference was founded in 1987 as a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization that aims to foster education and discussion on world issues.
More information about the 2014 Camden Conference is available online. More information about the accompanying UMaine course is available by calling Marlene Charron at 207.581.4095 or visiting the Division of Lifelong Learning’s website.
The University of Maine’s College of Education and Human Development has partnered with the Maine Department of Education to create a statewide system of supports for Mainers who serve children with autism and their families. The Maine Autism Institute for Education and Research (MAIER) will open Jan. 1, 2014 on the UMaine campus. Deborah Rooks-Ellis, an assistant professor of special education at UMaine, will be the institute’s full-time director. She will oversee the institute’s efforts to increase statewide capacity to improve outcomes for children with autism. The full DOE news release on the collaboration is available online.
Six students from the University of Maine’s College of Engineering have been awarded Center for Undergraduate Research Fellowships for 2012-13.
The fellowships were developed to enhance and increase undergraduate student involvement in faculty-supervised research, and are supported through a PRE-VUE grant awarded by the University of Maine’s President’s Office. Each fellowship provides a $1,000 award for the student, and up to $1,000 in more funding, if needed, to cover costs associated with the project.
The students’ research areas involve a variety of engineering topics — from studying extreme rainfall and climate change to optimizing power conversion for wave energy converter systems.
Graphene potential: A sophomore in engineering physics with a concentration in electrical and computer engineering, Beauchemin is researching a graphene-based electrochemical sensor. Her research focuses on graphene’s electrical characterization and its potential for use in single-molecule sensors. Graphene is a single-layer graphite — a hexagonal lattice of carbon atoms — and has properties of high conductivity and strength that give it potential in the area of electronics. Beauchemin has produced graphene, and hopes to identify it optically and electrically. She plans to test its possibility as a sensor for nanopore DNA encoding research by her adviser, electrical and computer engineering professor Rosemary Smith.
Building skills: Beauchemin says the fellowship has given her the opportunity to work in a lab with faculty she admires, and has helped strengthen her research and laboratory skills. “I work in the Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology (LASST) in Barrows, and there is a lot of intimidating equipment there, but Dr. Smith has been there to answer all my questions and assist me when needed,” Beauchemin says. “There are times at which I feel less experienced than the graduate students I work with, but I feel lucky to begin building my skills as an undergrad, so when I go to grad school, I will be well-prepared for research.”
Engineering Expo: Beauchemin, from Saco, Maine, cites UMaine’s annual Engineering Expo in Gorham and Orono as the springboards for deciding to study engineering at UMaine. “It is a great display of the diversity of programs at the school and is a great way to get children interested in science and engineering,” she says. “I have always loved math and science, and engineering is a great way to apply my interests.”
Future plans: Graduate school for electrical engineering is in sight for Beauchemin, who is interested in solid state physics and semiconductors. She hopes to work in the field of semiconductors.
Extreme rainfall: A sophomore in civil and environmental engineering, Dandy is working on climate change adaptation for his research project, “Extreme Rainfall in a Changing Climate: Developing New Methodologies to Inform Infrastructure Design.” He is analyzing past extreme precipitation and hurricane data for the East Coast, and is writing computer programs to help predict future extreme flood events to inform better infrastructure design. ~
Challenging himself: The Los Angeles, Calif., native chose engineering because he has always excelled at math and likes a challenge. “I enjoy challenging myself with course material that interests me,” says Dandy, noting that he chose UMaine for its reputation as an engineering school.
Pursuing research: Dandy says the fellowship gives him the opportunity to pursue research in the field that he finds most interesting. “It is very interesting to observe the entire process involved, and see everyone’s input toward a project,” says Dandy, who works with civil and environmental engineering professor Shaleen Jain. Dandy has presented his research at the National Council for Undergraduate Research Conference in LaCrosse, Wis., and published a research article.
Graduate school: Dandy plans to study water resource engineering or hydrology in graduate school.
Genetic sequencing: A sophomore in electrical and computer engineering and a student in the Honors College, Nolan has been working on a nanopore gene sequencing project in the Microinstruments and Systems Laboratory. “Our objective is to translocate single-stranded DNA through a nanopore and electrically identify individual nucleotides as they pass through,” Nolan says. “If we could fine-tune the process well enough, it has potential to replace traditional methods of genetic sequencing, as it is a faster and cheaper alternative to current commercial approaches.” Nolan says the bulk of his research has been in “optimizing the recipe we use to make the carbon nanoelectrodes for our electrical measurements.”
Invaluable asset: Nolan, from Camden, Maine, says he did not imagine that he would have this kind of opportunity to do research as an undergraduate. “I was excited to earn a lab position here at the university, pleased with the cutting-edge facilities and meaningful projects, and thrilled to subsequently receive a research fellowship,” he says. “It has been an invaluable asset to my research, and I greatly appreciate the opportunity.” He says research has been “an enjoyable, meaningful way to work during the summer and supplement coursework during the academic year.”
Combining strengths: When deciding where to attend college, Nolan knew he wanted a school with a solid curriculum and scholarship opportunities. “With UMaine’s renowned engineering program, merit scholarships and research positions, it offers a great balance between quality education, professional opportunity and affordability,” Nolan says. He views engineering as a chance to learn interesting, dynamic material while combining his strengths. “It is a discipline where I can combine my natural creativity with my knack for science and mathematics, and the way engineering continues to be shaped by — and to evolve with — the modern world, ensures that it stays relevant and integral to our society,” he says.
Role models: Nolan says his research would not have been possible without the guidance of Institute for Molecular Biophysics research engineer Justin Millis and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Rosemary Smith. “Justin has shown me the ropes in the clean room and consistently provided great project advice,” Nolan says. “Rosemary always manages to find the time and the patience, despite her busy schedule, to sit down with me and explain the answers to all of my questions.”
Continuing education: Nolan says he plans to attend graduate school after completing his undergraduate studies. “I strive to become the best engineer I can be, and after graduate school will probably look to move into industry,” he says. Nolan says he is interested by both the electrical and computer aspects of his major, but sees himself leaning toward computer engineering.
Power conversion: A senior in electrical engineering, Nuzzo is working on optimizing power conversion for wave energy converter (WEC) systems. He has been designing printed circuit boards that will be used with a mechanical prototype WEC designed by the Mechanical Engineering Department. Nuzzo’s work, which involves converting DC power to AC power using an inverter he designed, will help convert power produced by WEC, as well as control it to optimize system performance. The research is an example of multiple departments at UMaine working together to find new methods for harnessing renewable energy resources, Nuzzo says.
Practical experience: The fellowship has helped Nuzzo gain practical experience in the power electronics field. The Litchfield, Maine, native says, through the fellowship, he has developed significant skills in printed circuit board design that are essential for his engineering work.
Early fascination: Nuzzo says he chose to study engineering because he has always been interested in building. “I’ve known since I was young that I wanted to study electrical engineering because it would allow me to understand how all my toys — that I took apart — worked,” Nuzzo says. He has since become interested in renewable energy and he sees electrical engineering as a key to innovation in that area. He chose to study at UMaine because of its “well-regarded engineering program and its financial benefits for Maine residents.”
Difficult but rewarding: Nuzzo, who has been working with electrical and computer engineering professor Nathan Weise, says research as an undergraduate is a fun, different type of work than what you do in the classroom. “Working on research between classes can be difficult but also rewarding,” Nuzzo says. “I enjoyed working closely with my professor and learning the tricks of the trade rather than working problems from a book.”
Working in the field: After graduation, Nuzzo says he will be working full time at Pika Energy, a start-up company in Gorham, Maine, where he interned last summer and learned about inverter design.
Improving usability: Osti, a junior in computer engineering from Kathmandu, Nepal, is researching alternative ways to interact with visualizations walls. Visualization walls are made up of many monitors that act as a single monitor and are usually used to display scientific data. Osti’s research mainly involves using Microsoft’s Kinect to find alternative input devices in place of a mouse or keyboard. “Since the total screen size of visualization walls is big, using a keyboard or mouse would mean that the user would have to stay close to the screen and would not be able to see much because of the size of the wall,” Osti says. “This creates a need for a different kind of input device that allows users to easily navigate the huge screen as would a mouse in a single-monitor screen.” Osti says the plan is to build a wireless device for users to navigate the walls.
Solving problems: Osti says he has long been interested in computer programming and creating things to solve problems. He transferred to UMaine from a Tennessee school during his first year because of the College of Engineering’s well-known academic programs. “I felt that I would get more opportunities and greater exposure here,” Osti says.
Valuable experience: Osti, who has been working with electrical and computer engineering professor Bruce Segee, says the fellowship has allowed him to learn a lot beyond the classroom through research as an undergraduate.
Implementing knowledge: Osti is undecided about his plans after graduation. “I would love to work on something interdisciplinary that requires implementing my knowledge of engineering in a different field like medicine or chemistry,” he says.
Detecting explosives: A junior in electrical engineering from Nashua, N.H., Pugliano is researching the optimization of a lateral field excited (LFE) sensor that she hopes will be able to detect peroxide-based explosives. “An LFE sensor is basically a wafer of AT-cut quartz crystal with electrodes deposited on one side, leaving the other side of the crystal bare,” she says. “The electrodes excite the crystal’s transverse shear mode with an electric field. Using equipment like a network analyzer, the crystal’s response can be measured. The response can be affected by the environment, such as gases and liquids that come in contact with the bare surface. This indicates that the LFE device may be sensitive enough to detect the gases emitted by dangerous chemicals.” Pugliano also is working to find a new method for measuring the LFE device’s response.
Strength to persevere: “The fellowship means that other people believe in me and my research, which is encouraging,” she says. “While research can be exciting, it can also be frustrating. When I am frustrated, I remember that there are other people who have faith in me, and it gives me strength to persevere.”
No place like UMaine: The Electrical and Computer Engineering Department is what drew Pugliano. “I visited several places and none of them really compared to UMaine,” she says. “UMaine has a lot of great opportunities, a beautiful campus and an impressive College of Engineering.”
Real-world applications: Pugliano chose engineering because it’s a challenging yet rewarding field that gives her the opportunity to solve real problems and improve the lives of others. “Also, I can’t say no to those big engineering paychecks,” she says, adding that undergraduate research “isn’t just about getting paid, it’s about applying knowledge from the classroom to real-world problems.”
Helping hand: Pugliano has been working closely with her adviser, electrical and computer engineering professor John Vetelino. “I started doing research for him in summer 2012 in the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) program,” she says. “Dr. Vetelino has been a wonderful adviser and has given me many opportunities.”
Teaching others: After graduation, Pugliano plans to gain experience by working with companies before returning to school to obtain her doctorate in electrical engineering. Her long-term goal is to become a professor.
A University of Maine researcher is participating in five projects aimed at improving nationwide science instruction and assessments.
Michelle Smith, assistant professor in UMaine’s School of Biology and Ecology, is the principal investigator on four projects and co-principal investigator on another granted $6.8 million in total funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF); UMaine’s portion is $1,012,269.
The projects, three of which are collaborative with other universities, involve UMaine administrators, faculty, postdoctoral and graduate students, undergraduates and area K-12 teachers. “All of these stakeholders … will contribute to national initiatives to improve science education,” says Smith, a member of the Maine Center for Research in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education (Maine RiSE Center).
In August, Smith was returning from a reunion with family members when she learned about the possible funding. “We stopped for lunch and I looked down at my phone and realized my inbox was full of messages from the NSF requesting that I provide them with more information on four different grants within 48 hours,” she says. “I told my family they had to eat ‘right now’ because we had to get home.”
Susan McKay, UMaine professor of physics and director of the Maine RiSE Center, as well as Smith and several other colleagues, will receive $299,998 to transform K-12 STEM education by restructuring teaching methods courses to align with national standards. They’ll also work to attract and retain STEM majors in college as educators and form partnerships with area school districts.
Researchers say the project could make a difference in Maine, where more than 50 percent of students in more than half the school districts are eligible for free or reduced lunch and the resource-based economy could benefit from more technology jobs.
Smith and colleagues MacKenzie Stetzer, Susan McKay and Jeff St. John will receive $249,851 to establish a UMaine program to broaden use of evidence-based teaching and learner-centered practices in STEM courses. UMaine faculty and area K-12 teachers will observe and document instruction in university STEM courses. Their data will be used to develop workshops targeting faculty members’ needs and implement innovative teaching practices.
Smith will receive $219,966 of a $528,459 collaborative project to develop assessments called Bio-MAPS (Biology-Measuring Achievement and Progression in Science) that gauge whether undergraduate college biology students understand core concepts. The University of Washington and University of Colorado-Boulder are partners in the endeavor “to articulate common learning goals and monitor longitudinal student learning in biology.”
The assessments will identify areas in biology in which students struggle. They’ll also help two-year community colleges evaluate how effectively they’re preparing students to transfer to four-year institutions. Assessment data will inform faculty about where changes need to be made in the biology curriculum.
Smith will also receive $187,968 to expand a national network for open-ended assessments called Automated Assessment of Constructed Response (AACR) in which computer software programs analyze answers of students in large-enrollment science courses. The assessments provide more insight into student thinking on common conceptual difficulties than multiple-choice questions.
Michigan State, the University of Colorado-Boulder, the University of Georgia, and Stony Brook University, are also participating in the $5 million project, in which researchers will create a community Web portal to improve alliances among STEM education researchers and promote nationwide implementation of innovative instruction materials.
Smith will receive $54,486 of a $718,000 collaborative award with four other universities to build a national network of Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs) that provide professional development opportunities so more faculty can use constructed response assessments to reform teaching in biology. UMaine faculty members Seanna Annis, Farahad Dastoor and Brian Olsen will work with Smith to develop the UMaine FLC.
The project seeks to provide insight into factors that facilitate or hamper faculty using modified teaching materials and practices. It also lays the foundation for a national network of FLCs and subject-based virtual communities with access to real-time automated analysis of AACR assessment items, faculty-developed teaching resources and support.
Smith, who says she chose a faculty position at UMaine in order to work with fantastic researchers and supportive peers, appreciates that her colleagues helped her think about research questions and mentored her during the grant-writing process.
She’s also grateful for the contributions of K-12 teachers. “The pilot data the K-12 teachers collected about university-level STEM instruction was featured in the grant to broaden use of evidence-based teaching and learner-centered practices in STEM courses,” Smith says. “That grant earned the highest scores of any I submitted. My colleagues and I are incredibly lucky to work with such a talented group of teachers who are also excellent researchers.”
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
On Oct. 17, the Maine Development Foundation and the University of Maine’s School of Economics and Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center released the second quarterly report analyzing critical economic indicators in Maine. The latest report looks at Maine’s relatively low per capita personal income. The first report, released in August, addressed Maine’s comparatively low level of worker productivity. Ann Acheson, a research associate at the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, wrote the new report that analyzes the relative contribution of the three sources of personal income — earned income, investment income and transfer payment income — in Maine and in comparison to the national average. The Maine Development Foundation news release and the full report are online.
A University of Maine graduate student is one of 22 scholars nationwide awarded a $15,000 Switzer Environmental Fellowship for driving positive change.
Caitlin Cleaver, whose master’s thesis is titled “The Maine green sea urchin fishery: Scale mismatches, trophic connectivity, and resilience,” is on target to graduate in May 2014 with dual master’s degrees in marine biology and marine policy.
For marine resource management to be effective, Cleaver says it’s important to understand how science, policy and the fishing industry intersect. She’s interested in incorporating sea urchin harvesters’ knowledge into science and management processes to better understand the collapse of sea urchin stocks and to develop effective strategies for maintaining the fishery.
Cleaver, who grew up in Kennett Square, Pa., works as a marine programs associate at the Island Institute in Rockland, Maine. In 2010, she earned a Master of Public Administration in environmental science and policy at Columbia University and in 2006, she received a bachelor’s in environmental policy at Colby College.
The Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation, which is based in Belfast, Maine, annually awards $15,000 to at least 20 promising environmental leaders. The foundation has awarded nearly $14 million in grants over a 27-year period.
“Today’s environmental issues are increasingly complex and require an ability to translate scientific, ecological and social knowledge across disciplines and apply it in real world settings,” says Lissa Widoff, executive director of the foundation. “The 2013 Switzer Environmental Fellows are at the cutting edge of science and policy and will be supported with funding, professional coaching and a network of leaders to help them achieve results. Their problem-solving abilities and innovation will make a difference.”
Other 2013 fellows attend Yale and Stanford universities, as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California Los Angeles. Fellows are pursuing degrees in such areas as library and information science; veterinary medicine; urban planning, human and environmental geography; and biological engineering.
To read an interview with Cleaver, visit go.umaine.edu/explore-umaine/student-profiles.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
The University of Maine J.F. Witter Teaching and Research Center will participate in Cabot Creamery Cooperative’s Open Farm Sunday from 11 a.m.–2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 13.
UMaine Applied Dairy Cooperative of Organized Working Students (UMAD COWS) and students with Maine Animal Club (MAC) will be available to answer questions and give tours. Guests can also see the cows, join barnyard activities and sample Cabot cheese.
The Witter Farm, Krebs Organic Dairy Farm in Starks and Pleasantville Farm in Warren are three Maine farms taking part. Throughout New England and upstate New York, 49 of Cabot Creamery’s supplying farms have invited the public to experience family traditions and celebrate “farm to fork” sustainability.
The Witter Center includes Witter Farm and Rogers Farm. Research at Witter Farm, constructed in 1972, supports Maine’s dairy and equine industries. The farm’s herd was the Agri-Mark Top Quality Producer for its region in 1995, 2006 and 2011. To learn more about the Witter Center, visit umaine.edu/wittercenter. To request a disability accommodation, contact Jake Dyer at 207.866.0083.
MPBN will air season three of the Maine EPSCoR produced “Sustainable Maine” series, highlighting the research of Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI), based at UMaine’s Senator George J. Mitchell Center. SSI is helping communities solve interconnected economic problems while advancing sustainability science. Information about the MPBN documentary series is online.
The broadcast schedule is:
Return of a River – Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 9 p.m.
(Repeating on Saturday, October 5, 2013 at 10 AM and Sunday, October 6, 2013 at 1 p.m.)
Tipple Bottom Line – Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 9:30 p.m.
(Repeating on Sunday, October 6, 2013 at 1:30 p.m.)
Culvert Operations – Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 9 p.m.
(Repeating on Saturday, October 12, 2013 at 10 AM and Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 1 p.m.)
Desperate Alewives – Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 9:30 p.m.
(Repeating on Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 1:30 p.m.)
Preserving Paradise – Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 9 p.m.
(Repeating on Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 10 AM and Sunday, October 20, 2013 at 1p.m.)
Saving Our Lakes – Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 9:30 p.m.
(Repeating on Sunday, October 20, 2013 at 1:30 p.m.)
Basket Trees – Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 9 p.m.
(Repeating on Sunday, October 27, 2013 at 1 p.m.)
Pools, Policy & People – Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 9:30 p.m.
(Repeating on Sunday, October 27, 2013 at 1:30 p.m.)
Maine and New Hampshire’s coastal tourism and shellfish industries contribute millions of dollars annually to the regional economy. In Maine in 2010, coastal tourism and recreation added $1.1 billion to Maine’s gross domestic product, while shellfish landings in that same year generated revenues of $347 million. But these industries and the coastal environment they depend on are vulnerable to a variety of factors, including pollution, climate change and invasive species.
A team of researchers led by the University of Maine and the University of New Hampshire will conduct a three-year study of the many factors affecting the health of their shared coastal ecosystem. This collaboration, funded by a $6 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), aims to strengthen the scientific basis for decision making related to the management of recreational beaches and shellfish harvesting. This research is a direct outgrowth of Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative, supported by the NSF EPSCoR program.
The project, titled the New England SusTainability Consortium (NEST), is managed by the EPSCoR programs at UMaine and UNH in partnership with College of the Atlantic, University of New England, University of Southern Maine, Great Bay Community College, Plymouth State University and Keene State College. In Maine, researchers will also collaborate with several state agencies and other stakeholders, including the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Department of Marine Resources, Maine State Department of Education and Maine Healthy Beaches.
“I am delighted that the National Science Foundation selected the New England SusTainability Consortium, for this Research Infrastructure Improvement grant,” said Sen. Susan Collins. “Through both tourism as well as commercial fishing, our state’s economy is highly dependent on the ecological well-being of the Gulf of Maine. This grant will help fund the vital research performed by faculty and students at the University of Maine as they seek to find ways to reduce pollution caused by coastal runoff and assist local governments in making informed decisions regarding the closure of beaches and shellfish beds.”
“This is good news for Maine, and indeed for all coastal areas,” said Sen. Angus King. “Our shellfish industry is facing many threats an climate change, warming oceans, acidifying waters, and an increase in green crabs, which are decimating clam flats. Our state simply can’t lose another fishery. I look forward to seeing the results of the good work that this grant will enable, like hopefully more targeted closures of flats. Our changing environment is a big problem, and while we work out broad solutions, we must also focus on mitigating the direct impacts on people and ecosystems.”
UMaine President Paul W. Ferguson affirmed the project’s importance, stating, “This NSF grant recognizes the leadership and contribution of University of Maine scholars who aim to support coastal ecosystems, economies, and communities by promoting sustainable policies and practices in Maine.”
The project combines scientific knowledge and local expertise to improve resource management decisions. There is widespread agreement among resource managers and scientists in both states that current beach and shellfish management decisions are challenging and can be improved by strengthening partnerships among scientists, managers and communities.
NEST uses a collaborative process where resource managers and other stakeholders participate in defining problems, identifying research needs, interpreting results and designing solutions. The team will select a number of study sites in each state to investigate how natural processes like water flow in rivers, and human activities like land development, in coastal watersheds influence bacterial dynamics. Project research will advance understanding of how environmental and climatic conditions affect the dynamics of bacterial pathogens. The project studies how human activities contribute to and are affected by these bacterial dynamics and related public resource management decisions. Coupling these distinct strands of research offers a more comprehensive view of beach and shellfish management. This innovative approach seeks to generate cost-effective strategies for reducing bacterial pollution. By identifying solutions that strategically avert risks to humans, while supporting economic development and ecosystem health, NEST will develop regional capacity between Maine and New Hampshire to advance sustainability solutions through science.
Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI) is supported in large part by a $20 million, five-year investment through the National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF EPSCoR Program). SSI enhances Maine’s research capacity and promotes innovation and societal benefit through the field of sustainability science. This innovative initiative represents an extensive network of over 350 researchers and students and more than 200 community-based stakeholders working together to advance solutions across Maine.
Contact: Andrea Littlefield, 207.581.2289