Global warming and climate change exist as some of the most troubling and pertinent issues that humanity faces. These problems permeate countless aspects of our lives, though can often appear distant as we go about our days. However, these problems are often closer than they appear. The Gulf of Maine has recently been of particular concern within the media – the body of water is heating faster than 97 percent of the wider global oceans. According to scientists, this is due to three primary factors: man-made global warming, the melting of the Arctic, and changing ocean circulations. These factors are particularly alarming when taken in the context of wider state implications, such as wildlife or commercial damages.
In 2022, the Gulf of Maine had an average surface temperature of 53.66 degrees Fahrenheit, which was almost four degrees higher than the 30-year average. It occurred in a recent slew of particularly warm temperatures, the 30-year high occurred in 2021, though this high was only half a degree above the 2022 level. Averaged out, sea level temperatures have been increasing by about half a degree each year since 1982.
One of the most noticeable impacts of rising temperatures in the Gulf of Maine is the effect on fish populations. Many fish species in the Gulf of Maine, such as cod and haddock, are adapted to cooler water temperatures. As the water temperature rises, these fish are forced to either move northward or to deeper, cooler waters, thus shifting local ecosystems’ balance. This same problem applies to lobsters, one of the state’s most famous and notable exports. Similar to fish, as water temperatures rise within the Gulf of Maine, lobster levels will steadily decline due to their movement northward.
In addition to environmental effects, the shift in fish and lobster populations has had a significant impact on the fishing industry. The Gulf of Maine is home to one of the most valuable fisheries in the world, and the decline in certain fish populations has had a major economic impact on local communities. For example, the cod fishery in the Gulf of Maine has declined by more than 80 percent since the 1980s, largely due to warming waters. The success of lobster harvests has also decreased, raising questions of viability within the industry. Smaller lobster populations within the Gulf puts more strain on those that remain, which can cause further environmental degradation. Additionally, fewer lobsters harvested means the price of lobster will increase, and commercial industries will be damaged.
Another impact of rising temperatures in the Gulf of Maine is the proliferation of harmful algal blooms. These blooms occur when certain species of algae grow rapidly and create large, dense populations. Some of these algae produce toxins that can be harmful to humans and marine life. In recent years, the Gulf of Maine has experienced an increase in the frequency and severity of harmful algal blooms, which can have a significant impact on wildlife and the fishing industry.
To combat these problems, state policymakers have taken recent action to reduce rising temperatures within the Gulf of Maine. In 2018, the state established a climate council to develop strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to prepare for the impacts of global warming. The council is composed of a diverse group of stakeholders and will hopefully lead to future damage control. Despite these efforts, global warming within the Gulf has largely gone unnoticed.
The effects of these problems can resonate on a very local level. Dwindling stocks within the fishing industry will harm the state’s economy as a whole, decreasing livelihoods and eliminating a major source of revenue. Moving forward, active knowledge and awareness of such a troubling problem can be valuable in the restoration of the Gulf of Maine, securing both commercial and environmental interests.
~ Wyatt Tune `26