Casco Bay advocates to spread word about climate threats

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PORTLAND — Scientists say climate change is already wreaking havoc with natural systems around the globe, and Casco Bay is no exception.

The bay, one of Maine’s vital economic engines, is already suffering from warming core temperatures, sea level rise and ocean acidification, according to Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca of Friends of Casco Bay.

“There are aspects of the change (in Casco Bay) that we cannot stop,” Frignoca said in a recent interview. “Our goal (now) is to slow down the rate of change and adapt.”

According to the bay advocacy group, research shows that changes in our coastal waters are putting lobstering, clamming and aquaculture at risk.

That’s one reason the group is holding a series of free, hour-long workshops called “Ocean Acidification, Climate Change, and You.” The first is scheduled for March 18, at the Portland Public Library in Monument Square, followed by March 25 at Jewett Hall on the campus of Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, and April 9 at Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick. All workshops begin at 5:30 p.m.

“Now is the time to move policy forward,” Frignoca said. “Our goal is for Maine to have a plan to address, mitigate and adapt to the changes in the marine environment that are here now and are looming on the horizon.”

She said key to climate change planning is the data that scientists with the Friends of Casco Bay are collecting, which can “help our communities decide how to move forward.” The mission of the friends’ group, the website says, is to “improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay.”

In the workshops, Frignoca said, she and research associate Mike Doan “will talk about the warning signs we see in our monitoring data.”

She said the friends felt it was important to share its data because “healthy marine waters are vital to Maine’s economy and quality of life (and) … we are seeing the impacts of climate change now.”

Frignoca said “climate change and ocean acidification affect us all,” not just those who make their living from the sea.

“We hope audiences will share in the sense of loss for what is happening and the optimism for what we all can collectively do to tackle these threats,” she said. “we want (people) to think about what we need to do to adapt to changes moving forward.”

Of deep concern, Frignoca said, are the rollbacks of crucial environmental protections at the federal level, along with “budget cuts to vital agencies and programs that collect and analyze the science.”

Frignoca called Casco Bay “large and geographically diverse,” which is why the friends wanted to bring their presentation on climate change and ocean acidification not just to the Portland area, but to the Mid-Coast, as well.

The friends’ website says that nearly one in five Mainers lives in the Casco Bay watershed and that the bay is home to 850 species of marine life and 150 kinds of water birds that feed, breed and raise their young on its waters.

“Our region depends upon a healthy bay,” Frignoca said. “The bay drives our economy — with thousands of jobs in fisheries, tourism and recreation industries benefiting from our clean coastal waters. Many people live and visit here because of the bay.”

In addition, she said the bay provides a vital respite through “endless recreational opportunities, from birding and angling to boating and beachcombing.”

Specifically, Frignoca said carbon dioxide created by fossil fuel burning “is the largest driver of (climate) change,” not just around the world, but in southern Maine as well.

Some of the changes are easier to track than others, she said, including warming ocean temperatures, increasing acidity and increased precipitation in the form of larger storms.

“These changes threaten Casco Bay and the livelihoods of those who depend on the sea,” Frignoca said, and “research is showing that (such) changes are posing challenges to our wild fisheries, as well as the aquaculture (industry).”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Friends of Casco Bay research associate Mike Doan, left, and Casco Baykeeper Ivy Frignoca collect data to assess the bay’s overall health.

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