Casco Bay study
5:42 pm
Tue August 26, 2014

Maine Scientists Launch Long-Term Study of Marine Life in Casco Bay

Scientists at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland are trying to better understand how the ecosystem of Casco Bay is changing. This summer, they launched a comprehensive survey of marine life in the bay that will unfold over the next 10 years. MPBN's Jennifer Rooks caught up with some of the researchers.

 

At the helm of this 16-foot Carolina skiff:  research technician Zach Whitener, who, together with two college interns, is zooming around Casco Bay studying fish. The team comes into a small beach on Mackworth Island off Falmouth, sets out 50-yard-long seine net, pulls it to shore and starts to count and measure alewives, silversides and other species commonly found in these waters.

This team is taking part in a major new study of Casco Bay - a comprehensive survey looking at everything from plankton to groundfish. The project is called the Casco Bay Aquatic System Survey - or CBASS, for short.

"The idea is to follow the conditions in Casco Bay for 10 years, to get an idea of how the ecosystem might be responding to changes in climate, changes in ocean conditions and changes in land use practices," says project manager Graham Sherwood.

Sherwood says that over the next 10 years, researchers will study the marine species in dozens of locations - from the rivers that feed Casco Bay, to deep water further offshore, and everything in between.

"We wanted to look at the ecosystem from land to sea," he says, "we wanted to look at the ecosystem from the bottom up and from the top down - all of those different trophic connections, which are feeding links between different fish species and invertebrates."

Researchers say it's rare in marine science to do a long-term survey of one area. And so the real value will be in the data collected over time. But already, researchers are learning things about Casco Bay. Whitener and intern Rebecca Atkins say they've seen more varieties of fish than they had expected.

"That's what surprised me the most in this project, we've caught so much in places you wouldn't expect it," Whitener says.

"We've had 20 to 30 species so far, and over 31,000 individuals," Atkins adds.

Whitener says at one site up the Presumpscot River, the team has caught juvenile founders the size of a silver dollar, "and today we caught a small-mouth bass there - a saltwater fish and a freshwater fish using the exact same piece of beach," Whitener says. "Really interesting how much the salinity changes there, depending what the tide's doing, how much it's raining, and the species react to it."

One of the big goals of the CBASS project is to provide better information to help manage the fisheries in the region. So far, that's been difficult, as data have only been collected over one- or two-year periods. "It's really nice to have this opportunity to really dig in to the long-term changes," Sherwood says.

"Casco Bay is gorgeous and beautiful and everyone's doing a really great job of trying to figure out what's going on," Atkins says.

The study is funded for 10 years by an anonymous donor.

Tomorrow on Maine Calling, we'll learn more about the changing ecosystem in the Gulf of Maine, from researchers at the GMRI and other colleges and organizations in Maine.

Scientists at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland are trying to better understand how the ecosystem of Casco Bay is changing. This summer, they launched a comprehensive survey of marine life in the bay that will unfold over the next 10 years. MPBN's Jennifer Rooks caught up with some of the researchers.

At the helm of this 16-foot Carolina skiff:  research technician Zach Whitener, who, together with two college interns, is zooming around Casco Bay studying fish. The team comes into a small beach on Mackworth Island off Falmouth, sets out 50-yard-long seine net, pulls it to shore and starts to count and measure alewives, silversides and other species commonly found in these waters.

This team is taking part in a major new study of Casco Bay - a comprehensive survey looking at everything from plankton to groundfish. The project is called the Casco Bay Aquatic System Survey - or CBASS, for short.

"The idea is to follow the conditions in Casco Bay for 10 years, to get an idea of how the ecosystem might be responding to changes in climate, changes in ocean conditions and changes in land use practices," says project manager Graham Sherwood.

Sherwood says that over the next 10 years, researchers will study the marine species in dozens of locations - from the rivers that feed Casco Bay, to deep water further offshore, and everything in between.

"We wanted to look at the ecosystem from land to sea," he says, "we wanted to look at the ecosystem from the bottom up and from the top down - all of those different trophic connections which are feeding links between different fish species and invertebrates."

Researchers say it's rare in marine science to do a long-term survey of one area. And so the real value will be in the data collected over time. But already, researchers are learning things about Casco Bay. Whitener and intern Rebecca Atkins say they've seen more varieties of fish than they had expected.

"That's what surprised me the most in this project, we've caught so much in places you wouldn't expect it," Whitener says.

"We've had 20 to 30 species so far, and over 31,000 individuals," Atkins adds.

Whitener says at one site up the Presumpscot River, the team has caught juvenile founders the size of a silver dollar, "and today we caught a small-mouth bass there - a saltwater fish and a freshwater fish using the exact same piece of beach," Whitener says. "Really interesting how much the salinity changes there, depending what the tide's doing, how much it's raining, and the species react to it."

One of the big goals of the CBASS project is to provide better information to help manage the fisheries in the region. So far, that's been difficult, as data have only been collected over one- or two-year periods. "It's really nice to have this opportunity to really dig in to the long-term changes," Sherwood says.

"Casco Bay is gorgeous and beautiful and everyone's doing a really great job of trying to figure out what's going on," Atkins says.

The study is funded for 10 years by an anonymous donor.

Tomorrow on Maine Calling, we'll learn more about the changing ecosystem in the Gulf of Maine, from researchers at the GMRI and other colleges and organizations in Maine.

Related Program