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Boston Harbor insect census: Looking to tiny creatures to tell the big story on the environment

Hurricanes: Preparing for the next big one

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Heather Leslie
Making a mission
of resilience science

Restoring the Penobscot should bring back sea-run fish

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Editor's Notes
Make your summer active

Blue mussel farming as supplemental income

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Male-only dogfish shark fishery draws debate

Science Insights
Looking at ecosystem-based management 'on the ground'

Reality-based regulations defy ‘one size fits all’

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Outside the Gulf
Woods Hole scientists use local plant to boost fish aquaculture in Haiti

Q&A: Karen McElmurry
creates a haven for hurt animals

Cape Cod’s wet and wild residents

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Judith Pederson, MIT Sea Grant, works to fend off invasive species

Book Reviews
A Coastal Companion details the Gulf of Maine’s natural history

The Naturalist’s Guide to the Atlantic Seashore is a field guide that takes an ecosystems approach

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Freshwater Mussels is a field and conservation guide

In the News

From the Scientific Literature


Book Reviews

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Costal CompanionA Coastal Companion: A Year in the Gulf of Maine, from Cape Cod to Canada

There are many ways to learn about the Gulf of Maine and its inhabitants. Personal experience tops the list: paddling its bays, fishing its estuaries, watching birds in its marshes, walking its shores. Since things like work, weather or distance might get in the way though, reading a well-written book is a good alternative.

Catherine Schmitt created her book, A Coastal Companion: A Year in the Gulf of Maine, from Cape Cod to Canada, in the form of an almanac. There are entries for each day of the year. She selected topics based on seasonal activity, migratory patterns and event dates. Entries stand alone so they can be sampled at will, although there is value to enjoying this book from cover to cover in just a few sittings, as I did. In this way, the cycles of life in the Gulf over the course of a year can be better appreciated.

Schmitt’s experience as a science writer shows here as she engages readers’ interest in her subjects while gently educating them. She moves easily between field-guide-style descriptions of fish, invertebrates, plants and birds, clear explanations of migratory, tidal and other natural processes at work in the Gulf, and thoughtful observations.

In entries for the second half of June alone, Schmitt describes the habits and behavior of periwinkles, horseshoe crabs, blackpoll warblers, fireflies, sweetgrass, bluefish, striped bass and pogies. She explains how the moon snail preys on periwinkles and how it forms the flexible collar that holds its eggs. She discusses how eelgrass is an “ecosystem engineer” because it creates the habitat needed for fish and shellfish nurseries.

Schmitt defines the chemical process behind bioluminescence in the May 24 entry. She then takes it further: “The more scientists discover about bioluminescence, the more magical and incredible it seems. Some bioluminescent animals have personal dimmer switches, and adjust the intensity of their light to match the light from above, preventing a silhouette that might be visible to predators down below. Light-producing bacteria turn entire seas to a milky blue....To see this other kind of light, you must go to the sea at night and walk along the wet sand, watching where the waves recede. Or go out in a boat and dip your paddle into the waves, stir, and all the world will be illuminated.”

costal companionsSimilarly, she describes both the science and art of sundogs, bright spots that appear to either side of the sun on clear, cold days, in the Nov. 11 entry. She writes: “Sometimes the sundogs look like patches of rainbow, adding the color of ice-shine to the ceiling of our shore.”

The almanac format allows Schmitt to note birth dates of writers and scientists who have links to the Gulf of Maine. She selects pertinent excerpts from the work of writers such as Rachel Carson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and E.B. White, and tells a bit about their lives. In her biographical sketch of Henry Bryant Bigelow, the first director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, she describes his contributions to the practice of modern oceanography.

In A Coastal Companion, each month starts with a poem by a contemporary poet and a simple pen-and-ink drawing of a coastal scene by Margaret Campbell. Graphite pencil drawings of sea life and birds by Kimberleigh Martul-March are scattered throughout the text and enliven the 8-inch x 10-inch pages. Endnotes, a bibliography and an index round out the book.

While this is a book about the Gulf of Maine, most site-specific references are to the coast of northern New England, and Maine in particular. This is not surprising as the contributors are all Maine residents: the illustrators, the poets and the author. Schmitt is a staff member of Maine Sea Grant, a nonprofit federal-university partnership based in Orono and working to further marine science and education in the state of Maine.

Armed with a better appreciation of the natural history of the Gulf of Maine, readers can use the excuse of E.B. White’s birthday on July 11 or Henry David Thoreau’s on July 12 to head outdoors and experience the wonders of the Gulf firsthand.

Lee Bumsted writes on conservation and outdoor recreation topics from South Portland, Maine.

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Naturalist's GuideThe Naturalist’s Guide to the Atlantic Seashore

Typical field guides have great depth but can lack breadth. There are comprehensive plant guides, bird guides, animal guides and shell guides that will help you identify whatever you find while out exploring the seashore. The subjects of such books may not be presented in the context of where they live and how they interact with their neighbors though, and you would need to carry three or four guidebooks along on one walk.

The Naturalist’s Guide to the Atlantic Seashore: Beach Ecology from the Gulf of Maine to Cape Hatteras stands out because of its ecosystems approach to describing the plants and animals common to this region. Chapters are divvied up by habitat. The typical denizens of rocky shores, sandy beaches, sand dunes, estuaries, salt marshes, tidal flats, seagrass meadows and the open ocean all get their own chapters. Some of the inter-relationships of plants and animals within a given habitat also are highlighted.

The book includes introductory chapters on the study of natural history, how the coast is formed and how food chains function. Terms are clearly defined and the text is written so that someone new to the study of beach ecology can follow along.

The author, Scott W. Shumway, a professor of biology at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, is also a good photographer. His photographs are among the more than 300 color images that illustrate this guide. Beautiful pictures of plankton, worms, kelp, jellyfish, crabs, clams, salt marsh plants and shorebirds fill these pages.

The Naturalist’s Guide to the Atlantic Seashore is printed on glossy paper, so the photographs pop off the page. It has a durable cover and binding to enhance its portability. An index with common and scientific names also makes it a useful resource while out and about.

Lee Bumsted writes on conservation and outdoor recreation topics from South Portland, Maine.

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Freshwater mussels*Web only content*
Freshwater mussels

Ethan Nedeau has a passion for researching freshwater mussels. Often over the past eight years, he has donned his wetsuit and SCUBA gear to put in long hours searching for them in the streams, rivers and lakes of the Connecticut River watershed. He swims in cold water, in swift currents, in waters downstream from industries and wastewater treatment facilities, and in moose habitat. Nedeau has written numerous reports of his findings for state and federal agencies. He is president of Biodrawversity, a science communication and consulting company, and was a former contributor to the Gulf of Maine Times.

In Freshwater Mussels and the Connecticut River Watershed, Nedeau has created a book that is a successful combination of field guide and conservation guide. He states that he hopes to “raise awareness and support for mussel conservation,” and in so doing, help protect and restore the watershed itself. Filter-feeding freshwater mussels serve as good indicators of the health of the 410-mile (660-kilometer) Connecticut River and its tributaries, which flow through New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. These freshwater mussels are also present in the rivers draining into the Gulf of Maine.

Nedeau clearly describes the life cycles of freshwater mussels, their ecosystem roles, their habitat preferences and their distribution in the first two chapters. He then reviews their status. Eight of the 12 freshwater mussel species living in the Connecticut River watershed are listed as endangered, threatened or of special concern in at least one of the four states. He delineates threats to the mussels’ success and offers specific recommendations to protect existing populations and restore others. Large color photographs of the mussels and their typical habitat accompany profiles of each species in the second part of the book.


The Connecticut River Watershed Council published this well-illustrated guide with financial assistance from a dozen state agencies, nonprofit organizations and businesses. Single copies are available at no charge at the Council’s office, or will be mailed for a $5.00 shipping fee. For more information, visit their Web site.



Biodraversity - http://www.biodrawversity.com/freshwater_mussels.htm 

To see Gulf of Maine Times articles by Ethan Nedeau on freshwater mussels:

http://www.gulfofmaine.org/times/winter2005/wedgemussel.html and http://www.gulfofmaine.org/times/fall2006/mussels.html

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