At Hadley Point, Disney said, eelgrass coverage might reach 80 percent of what it was in 1996 by 2022.
The decline in eelgrass is the result, she said, of a cultural tradition in the area of seeking economic gain -- from fishing, cruise ships or building around the bay -- without considering the long-term consequences. She said the net result risks tipping the bay into widespread ecosystem collapse.
Eelgrass habitats are in decline all along the Atlantic Coast, according to Disney. The grass is almost completely gone from the Chesapeake Bay, and along with it, most of the wild oysters that were once iconic to Maryland but are now farmed rather than fished.
Disney fears that, if the trend is left unchecked, Maine might reach a similar point and its watermen could be relegated to posing for tourists at cruise terminals rather than continuing to prosper in a commercially viable and sustainable business.
Because many of the same species that are affected by eelgrass degradation are also of commercial interest, Disney said many fishermen support efforts to restore habitats. Chief among those supporters are the lobster fishermen, whose buoys marking the location of their pots are scattered across the bay. More difficult to convince have been the clam and mussel fishermen whose methods have degraded the eelgrass.
Getting fishermen to 'take ownership'
Disney's past career as a public schoolteacher has aided her. By her estimate, she taught 900 children, many of whom are now fishermen or have the ear of a mother or father in the industry.
Jerilyn Bowers, a development and public relations director at Disney's laboratory, said, "It's not uncommon in these traditional fishing communities for there to be 12-, 15-, 16-year-old boys who have their own boats, their own industries essentially, and they are generating a significant amount of revenue. So it's really critical to get them to take ownership of this bay at a very young age."
Bowers is a seventh-generation Mainer on both sides of her family.
It's the type of day-to-day, down-in-the-trenches effort, Disney said, that's required to change people's thinking about conservation and building sustainable commercial practices. It's wives talking to husbands and children speaking to parents, she said.
The need to address the eelgrass problem becomes only more urgent with the quickening pace of global warming, Disney said.
"People are beginning to understand that these vegetative marine habitats are playing a major role in mitigating the impacts of climate change and that we really need to restore them where we can and protect them," she said.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500