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March 13, 2024

On Maine islands hit hard by winter storms, volunteers pitch in on cleanup, recovery

debris and person walking behind Courtesy / Maine Seacoast Mission Winter storms resulted in soil erosion and debris washed ashore.

Maine’s unbridged islands suffered serious damage from winter storms, including the loss of personal property, damage to community and business infrastructure, coastline erosion and shores awash with debris.

Staffers with the Maine Seacoast Mission, headquartered in Northeast Harbor, recently traveled to Great Cranberry Island, Matinicus and Isle au Haut to assess how communities are recovering and to help with cleanup over a three-day period.

Traveling aboard the mission's flagship 74-foot vessel, the Sunbeam, the mission's staff and a volunteer from the Rockland-based Island Institute collected 20 bags of debris and connected with residents and business owners.

“The mission has worked with Maine islands for going on 120 years,” said John Zavodny, president of the Maine Seacoast Mission. “Following the storms, we wanted to show our continued support and do whatever we could to help, like the mission has always done.”

Islanders are still contending with damage from the January storms and from the most recent flooding on March 10.

Mission staffers saw extensive damage to public and private infrastructure.

“Some of these piers and docks are aging and were probably never designed for the battering that they’ve been taking lately,” Zavodny told Mainebiz. “I think erosion will end up being a long-term problem because they’re losing their rock walls and their beaches.”

2 people walking on shore
Courtesy / Maine Seacoast Mission
Mission staff and an Isle au Haut resident walk a debris field at Head Harbor.

The damage is interfering with the ability of some businesses to operate.

“This is an important time of the season for people to get ready for summer, whether it’s preparing fishing gear or working on boats in the off-season and getting them ready for boat owners who are coming back,” he said.

“What we heard is that the cleanup itself — they’re taking it in stride. But what it does is set them back in terms of preparing for the busy season.”

The mission is heading back out for two, multiday volunteer-service trips to help clear debris, move items and remove trash from shorelines, public ways and publicly used buildings. 

The nonprofit will visit the islands of Frenchboro, Great Cranberry, Little Cranberry and Matinicus aboard the Sunbeam and the Beal & Bunker’s mail boats, the Sea Queen or Double B.

From March 19-21, 10 volunteers will travel to Frenchboro, Great Cranberry and Little Cranberry. 

From April 12-14, volunteers from the Sigma Kappa chapter at Northeastern University will travel to Matinicus.

The mission also plans to continue talks with islanders to understand how to best support them as destructive storms continue to challenge island and coastal communities.

The goal, said Zavodny, is to take some of the burden off the islanders so that they can focus on getting on with their lives and their businesses. 

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