Friday, December 18, 2009

Maine's Great Seaweed Struggle

Cobscook Bay in easternmost Maine is an unusual place: a multi-chambered embayment flushed by enormous tides (15-feet and up) where Jurassic Park sized periwinkles grow and all sorts of organisms that normally never leave the sea can be found by walking around the seafloor at low tide. It's one of the most biologically productive places in the North Atlantic, and has long put food on the table for people in Maine's far eastern settlements.

So when a large scale seaweed harvesting operation showed up in the bay last year, all hell broke loose. Periwinkle harvesters feared their quarry would be carried off with the seaweed. Shorefront property owners were upset that a Canadian company was coming in to take seaweed from intertidal rocks that might, in fact, belong to them. Activists drew attention to alleged short-cutting and other concerns. Never had seaweed be so contentious.

So what's to make of all this? This fall I returned to Cobscook Bay, and you can read what I found out in the January 2010 issue of Down East, on sale now, or at their website.

For a little additional background on Cobscook Bay, I can also offer this feature from the July 2007 issue of Down East. For more on the problems of the ocean environment generally, try my first book, Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas.

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