Protecting the bay

To the Editor:

Frenchman Bay empties and refills twice a day, in both directions, right in front of Bar Harbor, the bay’s bottleneck. The bay is a large but enclosed body of water and shoreline mudflats intensely fished for lobsters, crabs, mussels, clams and scallops and there are aqua-farms growing mussels and oysters at the top of the bay, all of which support large numbers of local families in several nearby communities.

A huge cod fishing industry on the Atlantic coast was destroyed from 1950-1992, in part because no environmental impact assessments were prepared in advance of the steadily more efficient fishing techniques.

Bar Harbor, similarly without environmental data, now is poised to begin hosting “mega-size” cruise ships and possibly also building a “mega pier” for berthing pairs of them.

In recent years, there has been a steady increase of cruise ships visits (16 in 1989 to 105 in 2016) and dragging activity throughout Frenchman Bay.

Since 2012, a large field of scallops that used to live in front of the former ferry terminal property has disappeared. In addition, during 2017, the numbers of juvenile lobsters normally settling to the bottom of the Gulf of Maine has fallen to the lowest level in 10 years, all for unknown reasons. All of these changes, whether caused by increased cruise ship activities, overfishing, warming ocean temperatures or all three, will be exacerbated by further increasing cruise ship visits — of current size ships or mega-size ones.

So what could be done with the ferry terminal site that could benefit the economy of Bar Harbor? We could build a world-class marine biology research institute and oceanarium/aquarium. Currently on MDI, the personnel and engineering know-how exists for building and maintaining a year-round running sea water system (not an easy feat in the wintertime) that would be needed to maintain a marine research institute.

No marine research occurs at the Jackson Lab, nor, except for the eelgrass surveys by Jane Disney, at the MDI Biological Laboratory.

A third research institute would foster the image of MDI as a scientific hub and could play an important role in the economy of Maine by focusing on understanding the complex ecosystem of Frenchman Bay. Such an institute could include a year-round oceanarium/aquarium in Bar Harbor, which would offer a money-making attraction to tourists at both ends of the summer season, as well as a worthwhile visit site for whatever cruise ship passengers disembark.

Would such a facility be expensive to build and operate? Of course it would, but the oceanarium/aquarium would be a steady fund-generator and cruise ship companies, nonprofit organizations and government agencies could provide grant-driven research support.

Considering the very large numbers of lobster buoys visible in the bay, why has the Maine Lobstermen’s Association been publically silent about the effects that cruise ships (and draggers) have had on their catches and lobster biology in general?

Similarly, although Bar Harbor Code No. 194-38, enacted June 17, 1997, says no motor vehicle can idle more than five minutes downtown, cruise ship diesel engines have to be kept idling constantly to keep electrical systems on, burning diesel fuel whose sulfur content is 66 times higher than an 18-wheeler, meaning carcinogenic and acid-producing fumes will be blowing all over Bar Harbor, as well as Acadia National Park. So, why has the leadership of the park been publically silent on the deleterious effects that cruise ship activities will have on the pristine forests of Acadia?

In contrast to both of these very important organizations, cruise ship lobbying organizations have been very active at both the state and local levels promoting converting Bar Harbor/Frenchman Bay into a mega-port cruise ship tool and possible freight transit port. In the interests of good science and good business, it is time for everyone to speak up loudly to protect the bay and Acadia.

Gary W. Conrad

Bar Harbor

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