Ecological recovery in the Kennebec estuary and nearshore marine environment

Teresa Withee’15 (Economics and Environmental Studies).  Bowdoin College. “Ecological recovery in the Kennebec estuary and nearshore marine environment” John Lichter, advisor.

Project Summary:
This summer marked the final year of a five-year collaborative project through the Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI), which united students and professors from Bowdoin College, Bates College, and the University of Southern Maine in an effort to better understand Maine’s rivers, estuaries, and nearshore marine environments. In John Lichter’s ecology lab we looked specifically at Merrymeeting Bay (MMB), a unique system in that six rivers converge to form it, two of the largest being the Kennebec and Androscoggin Rivers. The Androscoggin River was once one of the most polluted rivers in the nation, helping to instigate the passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972, and caused much damage to fish populations. Because of this, it has been crucial to study MMB and measure the progress it is making in regard to its recovery since the Clean Water Act was enacted.

One of the ways in which our team assessed the health and recovery of Merrymeeting Bay was to beach seine in two locations, one along the Easter River, which leads into the bay, and one at Abbagadassett Point, which is located within the bay itself. For the first four weeks of the summer a beach seine was conducted at each location every week, but for the remaining time they were conducted only once every two weeks. With this information, which has been collected each summer by the fellows, it will be possible to observe a trend in fish populations, and to see if certain species are in the process of recovery or have already reached healthy levels.
In addition to beach seining, I assisted with the projects of two of the four other students working for John Lichter, one on the potential benefits of eelgrass restoration in the mouth of the Kennebec and the other on the distribution of eels in MMB. In order to learn more about current eelgrass restoration efforts, Elizabeth Brown, ’15, and I traveled to the Mount Desert Isle Biology Lab and spent two days collecting and transplanting eelgrass using two different methods: stapling and grids, both of which are biodegradable and have shown to be successful in past endeavors. At the end of the summer, we transplanted two bundles of twenty eelgrass shoots from a healthy patch in the mouth of the Kennebec to a location nearby where eelgrass was not, but should be, growing. For both of these bundles, we using the biodegradable grids method, tying sacks of sand onto each of the corners to keep it settled on the ocean floor.
The next steps will be to compare beach-seining data from this year with that from previous years, and to observe next summer how successful the eelgrass transplant in the mouth of the Kennebec was. If the eelgrass has persisted, efforts to restore it could be greatly increased.

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