Volume 7, No. 1

Promoting Cooperation to Maintain and Enhance
Environmental Quality in the Gulf of Maine

Spring 2003
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Water-quality lab to
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Water-quality lab to benefit coastal Maine

Dr. Susan Shaw with MERI staff members Richard Bamberger and Christie Mahaffey
Photo courtesy of the Marine Environment Research Institute
The Marine Environmental Research Institute (MERI) has received a $100,000 grant to establish a water chemistry laboratory in Blue Hill, Maine. The laboratory will include five separate areas, including a marine mammal clinic, which will support the institute’s seal research program. The grant will allow the institute to purchase field and lab equipment, to conduct collaborative studies with other groups to assess the health of local bays and to hire a research coordinator.

Founded in 1990, MERI is a nonprofit organization that conducts scientific research and gathers data for monitoring the health of the marine environment. The organization has a staff of 12 full-and part-time employees and works with federal and state agencies along Maine’s coast.

The grant comes from a family foundation, which chose to remain anonymous. Dr. Susan Shaw, MERI founder and executive director, says she anticipates that other groups will use the lab, which will maximize the information gathered about coastal waters. She adds that the lab “will have a significant, long-term impact on the quality of life,” in a coastal town like Blue Hill. Blue Hill Bay and Penobscot Bay have been targeted as potential areas for the development of aquaculture projects, particularly salmon aquaculture. There also has been preliminary discussion of a dredging project within Blue Hill harbor.

Shaw says the consequences of development, aquaculture, dredging and pesticide runoff are largely unknown in the region. The new lab will help answer some of those concerns. MERI plans to conduct a baseline study to determine the status of the waters of Blue Hill Bay. The baseline can then be used to determine the impact that various human activities have on water quality.

Combining the research with that of other agencies and organizations will provide information to help decide policies about coastal waters.

“With the labs we hope to build community awareness, understanding and ultimately stewardship of our coast and the real world problems we are facing here,” Shaw says.

Students from area schools will also benefit. MERI’s Ocean School program, which was piloted in Blue Hill schools last fall, takes place in the classroom during winter months and culminates in the spring and fall with beach walks and island field trips led by MERI naturalists. “By opening our labs to area students, we hope to create excitement about marine sciences and the ecosystem that we live in,” Shaw says. She estimates that the lab will be operating by late March.

Along with expanding the institute’s capacity to monitor water quality, phytoplankton and contamination in fish and shellfish, the grant will support MERI’s long-term research on toxic pollutants and their health effects in coastal seals. A 2001 study by MERI researchers found that wild harbor seals in the Gulf of Maine might be undergoing significant physical burdens through exposure to toxic chemicals. As top predators, seals and other marine mammals are important sentinels for the health of the oceans and for contaminant-related effects in people.

For information on MERI’s research program and education initiatives,
call (207) 374-2135, email meri@downeast.net, or visit them online at www.meriresearch.org.