Brunswick warned about 'runaway train of ocean warming'

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BRUNSWICK — The Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association sought to draw attention to local impacts of climate change Monday evening with a film about the widespread death of coral reefs.

The organization held a public screening of the Netflix documentary “Chasing Coral” at Curtis Memorial Library, followed by a panel discussion that included Director of Marine Programs Monique Coombs, Brunswick Marine Warden Dan Devereaux and Michael Conathan, director of ocean policy at the Center for American Progress.

Nearly three dozen people came out to watch, filling almost every seat. The panel was moderated by MCFA Executive Director Ben Martens. 

The film depicts the quest by a group of scientists to document coral bleaching and the death of reefs across the world as a result of ocean warming. According to the film, between 80 and 90 percent of Florida’s coral population has been lost over the past 30 years. Coral on a global scale has declined by 50 percent.

Devereaux said though the issue may seem distant to Mainers, he has seen ocean warming have a serious impact on shellfish in local waters.

“The clams have subsided due to predation from green crabs that are invasive (and) like warmer waters,” Devereaux said. 

He added that he has seen a huge spike in the number of northern quahogs found in Brunswick, and the hard clam has essentially become the dominant species of shellfish in the area. Devereaux said the increase in water temperature has changed how he does his job, and how fishermen working in the mudflats do theirs.

“It’s definitely changed the style of fishing in these near shore areas,” Devereaux said. “My world has changed. It went from (using) hand rakes, and now they’re using rakes. It’s changed enough to change the species that are living in the flats and that’s scary.”

Conathan pointed to a study from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute that states Gulf of Maine’s waters are warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans.

“It’s a runaway freight train of ocean warming, and I’m not even sure what the rational is for that,” Conathan said. 

The panel’s discussion consisted mostly of answering questions from the audience. State Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic asked how members of the Maine community could help monitor local climate change the way divers in the documentary reported on reef deaths.

Coombs said fishermen play an integral role in communicating information.

“(Martens) gets a phone call and he gets an update from things that are changing, but really and truly the fishermen are on the boats,” Coombs said. “They’re out there, they could be the divers.”

Martens added that the MCFA is working on a project with UMass Dartmouth in Massachusetts to collect and assess ocean data in a quicker way by outfitting many of the organization’s boats with cameras to document changes.

“We are trying to essentially take that huge data collection operation that exists down in Wood’s Hole and spread it out among a lot more fishermen who can add more pieces of information that we lack,” Martens said.

Audience members also asked questions about funding for research, reducing carbon emissions, and policy to help fight climate change.

Devereaux discussed how Google Earth and other technology, such as drones, have transformed the flow of ocean information. One Google Earth feature uses electronic buoys to retrieve data.

“We used to use a baker’s thermometer to tell the temperature of the water,” Devereaux said. “Now you can go to Google Earth, and all you have to do is touch these buoys and you’ve got all the data in real time.”

The panelists also said while federal leadership on ocean research may not be strong at the moment, action on the state level has been encouraging.

Ultimately, the representatives said they hope to encourage people to care about climate’s impact on the ocean as they might in places where it’s more visible, like forests or national parks. 

“The ocean has a PR problem,” Conathan said, borrowing a line from the documentary. “You can go to the coast and everything looks great, you can eat your lobster roll and head home, but underneath it’s not true.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente. 

Dan Devereaux and Monique Coombs speak during a panel discussion following the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association’s presentation of “Chasing Coral” Monday evening at Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick.