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Letters to the Editor - Issue 159

Shorebirds and seaweed

We enjoyed Carl Little’s article about Rosemary Levin’s hooked rugs in the January/February issue, and were intrigued by Rosemary’s statement that expanded harvesting of seaweed may have contributed to a decline in shorebirds. Untangling the rockweed-bird foodweb, and how rockweed harvest affects that foodweb, is something we are studying as part of a larger research project with the University of Maine.

This summer we will collect rockweed, and then separate, count, and identify all of the invertebrates; we will ultimately analyze the invertebrate community relative to the harvest history of a particular location. These data will then be compared with Purple Sandpiper diet data. The research team is using DNA barcoding on fecal samples from purple sandpipers to understand what, exactly, it is that they are eating when they are in the intertidal.

We know that, at low tide after harvest, the benthic community fluctuates and then rebounds. We know less about what happens to the invertebrate community at high tide after harvest, the effects of harvest over longer time scales (decades), or how those fluctuations affect birds. Additionally, little is known about how climate change will intersect with harvest and species that forage and live in the intertidal.

The best we can currently say about shorebirds and their use of the Maine coast generally is that coastal habitat supports shorebirds primarily as refueling stops during migration. Research data from the past 30 years supports “a decline” in the abundance of shorebirds observed here in Maine. However, the decline cannot be solely attributed to shoreline disturbances. Shorebirds, in general, are more greatly impacted elsewhere in the world such as on Arctic breeding grounds and Southern Hemisphere wintering areas. Sea level rise is inundating known breeding sites, and shifting timeframes for crucial nestling food resources are impacting reproductive success. On wintering grounds, habitat loss from shoreline development as well as hunting have also decimated shorebird populations. Estimates from various sources report that shorebirds in general have declined by more than 50 percent during the past few decades. When we look into separate species-specific data, the decline is more variable: 30-90% depending upon the species. FMI:

Hannah Webber and Seth Benz

Schoodic Institute at Acadia

National Park

Hail to the bottom painters

I would like to congratulate MBH&H Publisher John K. Hanson Jr. for being a member of what is now a very exclusive group: those of us who paint our own boat bottoms (From the Publisher, MBH&H May/June 2019). At least the job has been made more palatable through the use of water-based paint. I would like to propose a regulation that all boat owners below the age of 80 must paint their own boat bottoms. This, I believe, would cut down on the ownership and building of excessively large craft. I know this might meet some resistance from boatyards worldwide, but the climate is telling us to back off on our zealous consumption, not only of fossil fuels, but also of materials. A good number, if not all, boat owners could use the physical exercise. Furthermore, most of us could stand a good dose of humility. 

Bart Chapin (via email)

Memories of Maine

I just read with fond remembrance Kate Oakes’s article “Pea Soup Fog & One Tough Fisherman” in the March/April 2019 issue of MBH&H. It reminded us of a trip to Pleasant Island that Kate and her husband John took us on one day for a delicious lobster roll lunch and an interesting tour of the island. We enjoyed the outing very much.

Unfortunately, I suffered a stroke four years ago, which curtailed our trips to Maine in recent years, but we still retain many fond memories of these trips. Looking forward to reading future articles.

Dick (and Susan) Rogers

Jacksonville, FL

Books about the sea

I’m a journalist in San Francisco writing a book about the sea. I would like to ask the readers of MBH&H to participate in a small survey. Please mention one book or movie about the sea that you truly love. Perhaps off-the-beaten track—i.e., less well known than Moby-Dick and Two Years Before the Mast. I would like to include the suggestions in my book. Send yours to

Bob Frost, Journalist and Historian

San Francisco

Nice issue!

The March/April 2019 issue is a particularly sprightly one! Congrats!

Spencer Smith

Seapoint Books + Media

Brooklin, ME

More on magnetic gyrations

Ken Textor’s article about compass adjusting (Jan/Feb 2019) has stirred a discussion about the vagaries of magnetism aboard boats.  It’s not just analog compasses that matter. Some years ago, I had a downeast powerboat built. During one visit to the builder, by sheer chance I happened to be aboard while the electronics guy was there. He said, “I had to put the fluxgate compass behind the pantry locker, so don’t put cans on the lower shelves.” What? Fast forward to a cruise on the Chesapeake with friends. I set a waypoint to clear the shallows a half mile offshore leaving a river. After a while the course just didn’t feel right. Because of my exchange with the electronics installer, I asked our friends if they had put anything magnetic in their stateroom’s hanging locker, which would be behind the pantry. After a brief search, he came to helm with earphones. I looked at the compass reading on my autopilot. It had shifted to port 20 degrees. I almost ran aground because of the tiny magnets in earphones!

Robert Brudno

Gibson Island, MD

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