By Monique Coombs, Seafood Program Director for the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association
Have you considered that your actions on land have a direct impact on the health of the ocean around us? Everything that we do ashore, from driving our cars, to building our homes, to caring for our lawns, has an impact upon clean water. With numerous marine species suffering population declines, we need to understand that over-fishing is only a small piece of the equation.
Some of the answers are easy: dispose of your trash properly so it doesn’t end up in the ocean, and spend a few minutes picking up litter on the beach or along the roadside. Avoiding the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers when possible has become a priority in oceanfront communities. Proper disposal of chemicals and prescription medications is critically important. You’ve probably heard these tips and hopefully follow the advice regularly. But another way to think about preserving the ocean is to think about how we conserve land.
Land trusts, like Harpswell Heritage Land Trust (HHLT), help communities preserve and maintain natural resources. HHLT currently keeps more than 1,500 acres in Harpswell, including miles of pristine shoreline, in its natural state. Sensitive properties are protected from development forever, with the important benefit of public use for generations to come. Preservation of these properties helps maintain, and improve, natural habitats in the ocean.
Research in Casco Bay has shown that by ensuring healthy landscapes, we can improve natural habitats, protect clean water supplies and boost the health of commercially important fisheries. Undeveloped shoreline and undisturbed coastal marshes have an important role to play in the health of the ocean by stopping and sequestering nutrients and pollutants before they reach the ocean.
Many marine animals spend at least part of their life cycles in near shore waters. Eel grass beds and salt marshes serve as nurseries for young fish, crustaceans and mollusks. By protecting these sensitive coastal waters, we are supporting the entire ocean food chain.
In recent years, there has been growing concern about the increased acidity of ocean waters, what some label “climate change’s evil twin.” The buildup of carbon dioxide and decades of unchecked pollution are causing major changes in waters, including those around our community. Juvenile shellfish are greatly affected by ocean acidification because it is difficult for them to build hard shells in highly acidic water. Protected land helps slow the course of ocean acidification.
Making use of conserved properties as outdoor classrooms is an excellent way to teach young people how to have a healthy relationship with the land and ocean. If taught the principles of environmental protection at an early age, many children carry these lessons into adulthood. Each one of us can have an impact in our own lives, and in the behaviors we model for those around us.
For a community like Harpswell, the health of the ocean is important to the quality of life in our town and to maintaining the livelihoods of local fishing families. Our fishermen depend upon a variety of species: lobsters, groundfish, scallops, clams, mussels, oysters and seaweed. So while many of us simply take in the views and enjoy the beaches, for Harpswell fishermen the oceans are a way of living. Keeping the land healthy keeps the oceans healthy, which keeps our community healthy.