The beaches along the Gulf of Maine are a perfect place for a walk on a hot summer day. My children have been known to spend hours with only a bucket and a shovel, digging in the sand and observing the various species of wildlife prevalent in this area of the Northeast.
We have seen our fair share of herring gulls, clams and other shell fish as we stroll up and down the pristine beaches.
The Gulf of Maine is known to be a unique and beautiful marine environment located off the shores of southeastern Canada and coastal New England (touching Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine). It is home to a diverse potpourri of microorganisms, plants and marine animals including clams, mussels, oysters, crabs and more. Its unique ecosystem provides a welcoming ecological oasis for marine life.
Unfortunately, the Gulf of Maine is also known to be one of the fastest warming spots on the earth.
In a recent study by a group of marine and climate scientists it was found that:
“Over the last decade, sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Maine increased faster than 99% of the global ocean.”
The researchers determined that the rapid change in temperatures was probably caused by a combination of atmospheric warming and warm water carried to the Gulf of Maine by the Gulf Stream. This region has also been experiencing a significant increase in rain and snow. The addition of these elements is making the water more acidic and in turn impacting the ability of marine life to thrive.
As a result of the warming water temperatures and change in water composition in the region many fish and other species are on the move, forced to withdraw from the Gulf of Maine in search of cooler water.
While puffins don’t actually live in the water, they are still feeling the impact of predicted warmer water temperatures in the region. Puffins feed on herring and sand lance (a type of fish commonly known as “sand eels”), both of which dwell in cooler waters. If the water temperature heats up the herring and sand lance will relocate, leaving the puffins behind to starve. The past two winters have been cold enough to allow the puffins to adequately feed, but predicted warmer temperatures of the future donot bode well for puffins.
Where have Maine’s mussels gone?
“It used to be that mussels were covering over half the space in the intertidal zone…More than 50 percent of the space and now they are covering typically less than 10 percent. They have gone from this species that basically defined the rocky coastline to being a minor part of it.”
According to this article in the Portland Press Herald, climate change-related developments such as warming temperatures and ocean acidification, may be causing mussel decline.
“…warming ocean temperatures – the Gulf of Maine is the fastest warming body of ocean water in the world – could be a factor…Studies have found a connection between ocean acidification, caused by greenhouse gas emissions, and the weakening of a key component to a mussel’s survival, the byssal threads (fibers of protein) that the mussels use to attach to rocks, docks and even the ocean bottom.”
Cod fishing has been a staple in the state of New England since it’s colonization. Rising temperatures in the Gulf of Maine are impacting the cod population. The change in temperature is creating a rise in mortality rates and a decrease in reproduction. There is also speculation that the rising water temperatures might increase the number of young cod dying from lack of food or from predator attacks. The warming water is pushing the cod from shallow to deeper water, which harbors an increased number of predators.
As marine species move out of the Gulf of Maine, the impact on the lives of other organisms can be devastating. It’s apparent that climate change is influencing this region in a myriad of ways and the long-term effects are somewhat unknown. What is known is that we have a global responsibility to do what we can to protect our children and the planet from the impacts of climate change.