Stay in touch with the coast.
Sign up for our newsletter »

Intergalactic Maine, marine biology, and golden Olympians

Intergalactic Maine, marine biology, and golden Olympians

By Polly Saltonstall

Maine on Mars

Some people think the granite rocks, crashing surf, and rounded mountains of Mount Desert Island are “out of this world,” and the concept now has a whole new meaning. Thanks to a NASA scientist’s love of MDI, a number of features on Mars (140 million miles away) have been named after locations around the island, the Mount Desert Islander reported.

NASA’s Mars Science Lab sent a rover named Curiosity to Mars in 2011 to examine the planet’s geology and assess whether it may have once supported life. The scientists divided the Martian landscape into 1.5-kilometer squares and named each square after a real town with a population of fewer than 100,000.

A section of the planet being explored by the rover was dubbed “Bar Harbor” by a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory researcher involved in the mission. The researcher, Katie Stack Morgan, has not only visited MDI, but even got married there, the Islander reported.

As Curiosity investigates within a square, the team assigns names to rock formations that correspond to geologic formations and features from that town on Earth, a researcher with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Astrology Science Center wrote in a mission blog post. 

The names in the “Bar Harbor” quadrangle of Mars include: The Bubbles, The Bowl, Cranberry Island, Ellsworth, Long Pond, Otter Cliff, Somesville, Southwest Harbor, Thunder Hole, and more. “What’s lurking in Blackwoods and Witch Hole Pond?” reads one Mars mission blog headline. 

“Bar Harbor has been so special to me in my earth life,” Stack Morgan told Mount Desert Islander reporter Liz Graves. “It’s so fun to see these names get used on Mars.”

But the names are just about the only thing the rock formations on Mars have in common with Maine. There is no water or vegetation on Mars, and the rocks being found and analyzed there are mostly sedimentary (one exception is a meteorite dubbed “Egg Rock”) rather than the igneous pink granite for which MDI is known.

Illustration by Ted Walsh

Maine’s triple gold Olympian

Meanwhile back on Earth, Ellie Logan of Boothbay showed superhuman talent when she won her third straight Olympic rowing gold medal last summer in Rio. She won her first as a member of the U.S. women’s eight crew team in Beijing in 2008 (Anna Goodale of Camden, Maine, was also in that boat), added another with the American women’s eight in London in 2012, and then the third this past summer, also as a member of the extraordinary U.S. Eight National Women’s Rowing team. The U.S. team is only one of two to win three consecutive gold medals in the Women’s Eight 2,000-meter race, and Logan is the only U.S. rower to win three gold medals in the event. 

Logan, who was born in Portland, was only 20 and still a student at Stanford University when she won her first gold. She first started rowing as a freshman at the Brooks School in North Andover, Massachusetts. She was one of two athletes in Rio with Maine ties. Sailor David Hughes, 38, a graduate of Yarmouth High and the University of Southern Maine, competed as part of a two-man team in the 470 class. He and his partner Stu McNay finished fourth.

Proposed ban on lobsters thrown back

Maine lobster fishermen caught a break from the European Union over a proposed Swedish lobster ban. The EU decided not to entertain a Swedish proposal to ban imports of American lobster into 28 member countries. Reports that 32 American lobsters had been found in Swedish waters over the past seven years and Swedish claims that the species is invasive had prompted the ban proposal.

But the European Commission (the EU’s executive body) nixed the idea, a spokeswoman for the commission said, deciding instead to pursue less disruptive measures, according to the Portland Press Herald. Fishermen in New England and Canada, congressional leaders, and U.S. scientists had argued that the proposed ban was based on poor science.

Lobster shenanigans

Fishermen may have won the battle in Europe, but skirmishes of a different sort have been going on along Maine’s coast.

Two men were charged with theft in November after an investigation by the Maine Marine Patrol revealed they stole more than $9,000 worth of lobsters in 19 crates from two dealers, one in Harpswell and the other in South Bristol.

Meanwhile, an escalation of lobster-trap cutting incidents between Cape Rosier and Schoodic Point prompted the offer of a $15,000 reward for information from Maine Operation Game Thief, a group that works to protect natural resources.

Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher threatened to close the involved zone to fishing if the vandalism did not stop. “I don’t want to take an action that could potentially penalize law-abiding harvesters,” he said, “but I am committed to preventing this from escalating further.”

Marine Patrol Colonel Jon Cornish called the trap-cutting incidents, which caused more than $350,000 in losses, the “most costly loss of gear” he has witnessed in his 32-year career. 

Earlier in the fall, a boat owned by a lobsterman in Port Clyde was sunk an amazing three times in six weeks. After the first two sinkings, Anthony Hooper relaunched his 35-foot boat, Liberty. After the third, he gave up for the season. Operation Game Thief offered a $2,000 reward for information in that case. 

In September, two men were charged with the sinking of yet another lobsterboat, this one in Tenants Harbor. Authorities contend the two men who sank that boat did so in return for money to buy drugs.

Harbor says no to cruise ships

While many harbors along the coast have rolled out the welcome mat for cruise ships, Northeast Harbor (a village within the town of Mount Desert) has gone in the other direction. Mount Desert selectmen voted 5-0 in November against allowing American Cruise Lines to discharge passengers at the local marina this coming summer, according to an article in the Bangor Daily News.

Most coastal Maine communities see the vessels—both the enormous ones commonly seen in Bar Harbor and Portland, and the smaller versions operated by American Cruise Lines—as an economic boon. Bar Harbor, which abuts the town of Mount Desert and is the state’s busiest cruise ship port, had 105 cruise ship visits that brought an estimated 158,000 passengers into Frenchman Bay in 2016, according to the BDN. Portland hosted more than 70 ship visits with more than 100,000 passengers.

Some Northeast Harbor businesspeople argued in favor of cruise ships, saying the town’s shaky economy needs the boost. But others said cruise ships would not help preserve the village’s small-town character.

Twenty local property owners, including several billionaire summer residents, sent an open letter that was published in the weekly Mount Desert Islander, arguing cruise ships “would jeopardize the unique character” of Northeast Harbor, “costing us far more than we might gain and undermining many of the qualities that we hold dear.”

Entangled whales cause concern

Federal fisheries managers and conservation groups were concerned about endangered right whales after two were found dead off the Maine coast and a third was rescued from tangled fishing gear near Cape Cod.

The spate of three incidents reported in a three-day span is renewing focus on a whale population that has been growing but remains in a precarious position. 

One of the dead whales was towed into Portland, where the 43-foot-long carcass was loaded onto a tractor-trailer and driven down Congress Street to a farm in Gorham, according to the Portland Press Herald. “I’ve never hauled a whale before, but I’ve moved some pretty big houses,” driver Paul Smith told the newspaper. “When I took this job I didn’t realize how big the whale was going to be. The tail was so long it hung over the end of the trailer.” Smith said he transported the whale during the early morning hours to avoid traffic. 

Marine biologists estimate that close to 500 North Atlantic right whales remain. While that is an increase from estimates of just 300 to 350 individual whales about a decade ago, it still places the right whale among the world’s most critically endangered whale species. The top threats to right whales are ship collisions and entanglement in fishing gear. 

Shrimp harvest cancelled again

Bad news for all of those who love Maine’s small but tasty shrimp: in response to the depleted condition of the northern shrimp resource, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has extended the moratorium on commercial fishing through 2017. The fishery has been shut down since 2013 as stocks of the small, sweet-tasting shrimp continue to shrink.

The 2016 Stock Status Report for Gulf of Maine Northern Shrimp showed abundance and biomass indices for 2012– 2016 are the lowest recorded during the 33-year-time series, according to the Department of Marine Resources.

Like last year, there will be limited fishing allowed for research (53 metric tons, almost double last year’s allowance) to allow more data collection as well as support for the industry.

That’s the silver lining for shrimp lovers. A selected group of fish markets will be able to sell the “research” catch. The research set aside will include shrimp caught by ten trawlers (eight from Maine, one from Massachusetts, and one from New Hampshire) and five trap fishermen, fishing for eight weeks from mid-January to mid-March.

Northern shrimp do better in cooler water. But ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Maine have increased over the past decade, reaching unprecedented highs within the past several years. This suggests an increasingly inhospitable environment for shrimp and the need for strong conservation efforts. 

New boat projects

Construction is under way at Lyman-Morse in Thomaston on a 65' sailing yacht designed by Stephens Waring Yacht Design of Belfast, Maine. The modern yet classic sloop is designed for daysailing and family outings. Expected launch date is fall 2017.

Meanwhile at Rockport Marine, work will begin this winter on a Rockport Marine-designed center-console runabout for delivery to the Bahamas. The Islander is intended to be capable of occasional inter-island passages, but would be used mostly for cocktail cruises and swimming excursions. The boat also had to be very low maintenance.

New owners for S&S

Sparkman & Stephens, the naval architecture and brokerage firm that Olin Stephens and Drake Sparkman founded in 1929, has been acquired by a group of private investors led by Brooke S. Parish and John B. Reuter. The firm remains privately held and terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Parish will be S&S’s new chairman. An asset management professional in New York and an experienced yachtsman, he owns Mermaid, a 1957 S&S ketch originally built for Austin Goodyear. Reuter, who has been named CEO of the company, is an entrepreneur and private equity investor, and has been involved with yachts for nearly 20 years.

Jason Black, the company’s COO, will remain responsible for S&S’s brokerage team, business development, and operations. S&S’s chief designer, Brendan Abbott, will continue to lead the design studio in Newport, Rhode Island, according to the release.  

A magnet school for mariners

A magnet school for students interested in maritime careers is preparing to launch in Searsport, according to a report in the Bangor Daily News.

The school will be called the Maine Ocean School, and will offer a full science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, but it also will give students the opportunity to specialize in maritime-focused studies ranging from climate change to seafaring.

Students will be able to follow four tracks—marine science, marine transportation, marine engineering, and marine management. All students will have the chance to earn an entry-level U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Certificate. Organizers expect 150 to 200 students. After completing bylaws, curriculum, and other details, the Maine Ocean School’s plans will go to the state’s education committee for vetting. 

Maine rust busters

Rust costs the U.S. Defense Department about $23 billion a year. Much of the cost is incurred in marine environments, where ships and infrastructure rust either through chemical processes or bacteria that oxidize iron found in steel. Scientists at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences hope to help find a solution by studying how rust interacts with bacteria in salt water.

Previous research at the lab found that iron-oxidizing bacteria, which use iron as an energy source, are among the first microorganisms to colonize the surface of steel when it’s put into the ocean. But while the iron-oxidizing bacteria use the iron that’s released from the steel, they don’t directly cause dramatic corrosion, researchers found. But they might help start the corrosion process by making the steel surface more hospitable to more damaging bacteria that arrive next. A key to understanding this might be in the complex microscopic structure the initial colonizers create. As the bacteria process iron, each cell uses the waste to build a unique stalk of metallic and organic matter. These stalks allow the bacteria to slowly move themselves through the environment. They also drastically increase the amount of surface area near the steel and create a new environment ready for colonization by other microbes.

One of the big surprises of the study was how well this particular species of Mariprofundus did in oxygen-rich seawater.  “This species is well-adapted to life in the fully oxygenated ocean, and it seems to create conditions on the surface of steel that make it easier for other, more corrosive bacteria to live there as well,” the researchers said.

Who can sail a shellback the fastest?

Brion Rieff, apparently. The boatbuilder from Brooklin, Maine, finished first out of 10 Joel White-designed shellback dinghies racing in Newport, Rhode Island, at the 7th Annual “Shellback Nationals,” according to a report in the Ellsworth American.

Racing in shellbacks has been a long tradition in Brooklin. White started races at Center Harbor by challenging his employees at Brooklin Boat Yard to lunchtime competitions in the little vessels, according to the American’s account, written by competitor Chip Angell. 

Over the years, most of the boats ended up in barns. Then a group of sailors in Chaumont, NY, at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, chose the design for dinghy racing. They built 15 new shellbacks and in 2009 challenged Brooklin sailors to a race. The two communities raced against each other for a few years. Meanwhile, in 2004, a group of Jamestown, RI, sailors chose the shellback for frostbite racing. Through the wonders of the Web they found the regatta and were invited to the 2015 event. Their invitation to Newport for this year soon followed.

The 2017 regatta will be in Chaumont on the last weekend in September. Anyone with a shellback is invited. 

Maine Boatbuilders Show is moving

The Maine Boatbuilders Show, which has been held for years in the sprawling Portland Co. complex at 58 Fore Street, plans to hold the show in a new site this spring. The 2017 show is set for March 24-26 and will be at the Portland Sports Complex, at 512 Warren Avenue.    


Share this article: