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March 18, 2024

Maine lighthouses, threatened by extreme weather, nominated to world monuments watch group

lighthouse and trees and sky File photo / Laurie Schreiber Maine lighthouses are a popular tourist attraction, but vulnerable to extreme weather.

Maine’s lighthouses have proven their resilience in the face of tumultuous weather and sea conditions for over two centuries.

But today’s extreme storms are prompting concern among preservationists.

“Now is the time to raise awareness, develop strategies and adapt Maine’s iconic light stations to be more resilient,” said Tara Kelly, executive director of Maine Preservation, a nonprofit advocacy group.

“Intentionally built in harm’s way hundreds of years ago, they are threatened today by one of the most rapidly changing and volatile bodies of water on the planet.”

On a mission to raise awareness about the threat, Maine Preservation has nominated the state's lighthouses to the 2025 World Monuments Watch, a program of the World Monuments Fund, which works to safeguard the world’s most treasured places. 

According to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, the gulf is warming faster than 99% of all other ocean surfaces on the planet, resulting in rising seas and storm surges. 

“This new reality crystallized most recently during a pair of January storms that saw crashing waves and ripping winds wreak havoc on light stations, causing an estimated $5.5 million in damage,” said Maine Preservation.

Icons in peril

Maine’s lighthouses are often touted by tourism organizations such as as sightseeing attractions. The state has 66 light stations. Each was purposefully positioned on low-lying peninsulas and small outcroppings along the most dangerous parts of Maine’s waterways. 

Kelly said the light stations can be repaired, prepared and adapted, and could serve as a model for other vulnerable cultural resources along coasts around the globe.

According to the American Lighthouse Foundation in Owls Head, the back-to-back winter storms on Jan. 10 and Jan. 13 combined to cause extensive damage along the entire Maine coast, including at a number of lighthouses. 

“The scope of destruction to coastal infrastructure was so widespread, it threatened to eclipse the fact that serious damage also occurred at remote lighthouse sites, which are out of the public eye,” the foundation said.

The foundation said it’s working to gather visible damage reports at many lighthouse sites, including flying by helicopter over 23 light stations, most located on offshore islands and ledges. 

Findings from the air inspection were shared with lighthouse stewards to help expedite the storm damage assessment process and additional advocacy is underway.

The World Monuments Watch was created in 1996 to raise awareness about heritage places in need of protection and to galvanize support for their preservation. 

To date, World Monuments Fund, headquartered in New York City, has contributed more than $110 million toward projects at more than 300 watch sites. The visibility has helped communities leverage an additional $300 million from other sources.

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