State of the Gulf of Maine Report Launched July-August 2010 Journal

On 9 June 2010, the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment released the State of the Gulf of Maine Report. The Council has recognised the need to tell people living and working in the region, as well as visitors to our shores, more about the current state of the environment, what causes the changes that we see, and what is being done about it.

The State of the Gulf of Maine Report aims to provide information on priority concerns for the region, which can be used for environmental management, decision-making and education. It is a part of the larger reporting effort within the Gulf, which includes the Ecosystem Indicator Partnership. The report is a modular, living, web-based document that will be updated continually over time. It will be developed incrementally, focusing on those issues that are of greatest concern to us now. At the moment, these issues include:

  • climate change, and its effects on people and the ecosystems that sustain us;
  • fisheries and aquaculture, as two of the most important economic activities in the region;
  • coastal development, which places pressure on the environment;
  • contaminants, and their effects on ecosystems and human health;
  • nutrient enrichment (or eutrophication);
  • aquatic habitats both in coastal areas and offshore, and
  • maintaining the diversity of animals and plants in the Gulf of Maine ecosystem.

Currently available on the State of the Gulf of Maine website is the introductory document, The Gulf of the Maine in Context, and four of a possible fourteen theme papers. The rest will be developed incrementally during 2010 and 2011. Theme papers available on the website are:

  • Climate Change and its Effect on Humans;
  • Climate Change and its Effect on Ecosystems, Habitats and Biota;
  • Invasive Species;
  • Emerging Issues.

Media Contact:
Theresa Torrent-Ellis
Maine State Planning Office
38 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333-0038 USA
Phone: 207.287.2351
Fax: 207.287.8059

Summary of Online Papers

Climate Change and its Effect on Humans

Accelerated climate change is anticipated to have wide-ranging effects on the future sustainability of the Earth due to adverse ecological, social and economic impacts. The driving force is an increase in the Earth’s temperature as a result of human activities (e.g., release of greenhouse gases and changes in landscape characteristics). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects a global mean temperature increase of 1.1°C to 6.4°C by 2100, which is likely to affect storms and floods, and lead to a rise in sea level (due to the thermal expansion of the oceans and the melting of ice sheets and glaciers. Recent research efforts estimate a global sea level rise of between 50 cm and 190 cm from 1990 to 2100. There are several parts of the Gulf of Maine coast line that are classified as highly sensitive to the impacts of sea level rise because of risks associated with storm events. The physical extent of climate-related impacts will vary depending on regional and local situations. Coastal communities in the Gulf of Maine will be impacted in numerous ways, including: health and well-being of communities (e.g., injury, mortality, migration, crime and security); access to services; design and placement of structures (e.g., buildings, bridges, and utilities); cost of living; loss of livelihoods, and the cumulative magnitude of climate change impacts. Climate change mitigation and adaptation are becoming increasingly important to community management and there are numerous ongoing federal, provincial/state, county, and municipal plans addressing these issues within the Gulf of Maine.

Climate Change and its Effect on Ecosystems, Habitats and Biota

The earth’s climate is changing as a result of increasing anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. Globally, the atmosphere and the oceans are warming. Atmospheric warming and melting of sea ice is altering the physical oceanography of the Gulf of Maine, while higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) may alter ocean chemistry, all of which will have effects on the ecosystem. Pressures on the aquatic environment as a result of atmospheric warming include increases in water temperature, decreases in salinity and changes in hydrography. Sea level rise is also an important pressure on coastal habitats and ecosystems. These pressures interact with each other and with additional pressures that are unrelated to climate change. These physical pressures may have negative impacts on some species within the Gulf of Maine, but may enhance the productivity of other species. Because the responses to these pressures will vary by species, the overall ecosystem will likely look profoundly different in the future as compared to the current ecosystem structure and species assemblage of the Gulf of Maine. Our ability to adapt to these changes will depend largely on measures taken to mitigate the ecosystem effects of climate change.

Emerging Issues – Circa 2010

This paper is a discussion of some of the emerging issues around the Gulf of Maine (referred to as the Gulf, and including the Bay of Fundy). The focus is on the environment and resources, covering the watersheds (lands and waters), estuaries, coastal and offshore waters, and how society is responding to their care. The paper is not definitive as some issues may be missing and some are likely not yet predicted, i.e., the unknown unknowns. It is meant to stimulate discussion about challenges confronting the Gulf of Maine and to stimulate further decisive action for follow-up research, information synthesis, policy making, management planning and education.