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March 8, 2018

Bigelow Lab to study future of kelp in rapidly changing Gulf of Maine

Courtesy / Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
Courtesy / Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
Douglas Rasher, left, senior research scientist at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, and Robert Steneck, a professor of marine sciences at the University of Maine, are leading a new study of kelp forests in the Gulf of Maine. The project, which received funding from the Maine Sea Grant College Program, is designed in part to determine which kelp species are growing best in a rapidly changing Gulf of Maine and what amount of wild harvest is sustainable.

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences has been awarded funding from the Maine Sea Grant College Program for a new study of kelp forests in the Gulf of Maine.

The East Boothbay laboratory reported that the study is designed in part to determine which kelp species are growing best in a rapidly changing Gulf of Maine and what amount of wild harvest is sustainable.

The study is one of four new projects representing nearly $1 million in research investment awarded through the Maine Sea Grant College Program and funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and matching sources.

Bigelow Senior Research Scientist Douglas Rasher will lead the project with support from University of Maine scientist Robert Steneck, with collaboration from government and industry partners.

Bigelow reported that although kelp forests are declining across much the planet, likely due to global climate change and local human activities, kelp forests in the northern Gulf of Maine may be returning, although some species may be different from those that historically thrived in the region due to the gulf's warming and acidifying waters. Kelp is returning particularly in the midcoast and Down East regions, Rasher said.

Gauging the current status of this important coastal habitat is designed to establish a baseline to measure future change against and paints a picture of long-term change.

"We predict that kelps are growing most rapidly in the Down East region, which might foster new economic development in that area," Rasher said.

Maine kelp is used in products ranging from fresh to frozen and powdered to liquid extracts, for people, animals and plants.

Bigelow Lab in 2017 landed a $445,041 award from the National Science Foundation to fund a project studying life in the low-energy habitat beneath the ocean floor, which involved an expedition to investigate the Juan de Fuca Ridge flank off the coast of Washington state.

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