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Researchers Launch Long-Term Study of Casco Bay Ecosystem

Jan 2, 2015
Stewarding the Ecosystem

Long-term monitoring of an ecosystem can provide some of the most complete and important data needed to understand and manage marine resources. It is also relatively uncommon, as this type of research is some of the hardest to fund. 

This year, we launched the Casco Bay Aquatic System Survey—a project unique not only for its scope and duration, but also for the way it is funded. CBASS was initiated through the gift of a single, anonymous donor who knows the importance of this type of research as well as the challenge of securing the resources that make it possible. 

Most marine science is accomplished in discrete, 2- to 3-year projects that provide snapshots of a particular species or aspect of the environment. Scientists are then tasked with bridging the knowledge gaps to draw conclusions about the broader ecosystem and longer timelines. 

CBASS takes a different approach. Using a wide variety of sampling and monitoring methods, we’re collecting data throughout the bay, across food web, and over a long period of time. The project is planned to secure at least 10 years of continuous data that reflects how the Casco Bay ecosystem works and how it’s changing. 

This summer, we made about 50 sampling trips from the lower reaches of the Presumpscot River to the seaward side of West Cod Ledges, approximately three miles offshore. During these trips, we conducted six core project activities at about 40 different locations. We sampled fish in the rivers leading to the bay, netted species near the shoreline, recorded temperatures, jigged for groundfish, monitored planktonic food sources coming into the bay, and conducted more than 50 miles of acoustic surveys to examine fish and plankton populations. 

As with any long-term survey, the first year was particularly challenging because it involved a great deal of planning, trial and error, and decision making. Despite this, our first year has been a great success. We’ve defined the protocols that will guide our efforts in subsequent years, and we’ve collected the baseline data needed to anchor our long-term data set. 

During the next year, we’ll launch the final research component—a survey of species caught in lobster traps. We’ll also initiate a number of communications and outreach efforts designed to make the CBASS data accessible and usable to the marine researchers, managers, and communities that need it.