March 1, 2019
c/o Legislative Information Office
100 State House Station
Augusta, ME 04333
Re: LD 559: An Act To Restore Regular Mapping of Eelgrass Beds in the State
Dear Senator Carson, Representative Tucker, and Esteemed Members of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee,
Please accept this letter as the testimony of Friends of Casco Bay in support of LD 559: An Act To Restore Regular Mapping of Eelgrass Beds in the State. Friends of Casco Bay is a marine stewardship organization formed in 1989 to improve and protect the environmental health of Casco Bay. Our work involves science, advocacy, and engaging the community in efforts to protect our coastal waters.
We support LD 559 because eelgrass: (1) provides critical habitat for marine life; (2) is an indicator of clean, healthy marine water which is used to set limits in pollution discharge permits; and (3) mapping is relied upon by oil spill responders to make decisions about habitats to protect and/or restore after a spill.
Because of the importance of eelgrass, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) used oil spill response funds to hire an oil spill response coordinator who mapped each segment of the coast twice, once from 1992-1997, and again from 2001-2010. That position and funding no longer exist. Since then, only Casco Bay has been mapped, in 2013 and 2018. To fund this mapping, DEP took funds away from other monitoring efforts and solicited money from outside organizations. Such a model is not sustainable. Without funding for mapping, Maine is missing critical information needed to protect its valuable marine resources.
Eelgrass as Habitat:
Eelgrass grows in shallow marine environments with clear water and plenty of light. It forms a base of food production, provides shelter for juvenile fish, invertebrates and mollusks, and stabilizes unconsolidated sediments and shorelines.
Eelgrass as Indicator of Clean Water:
Eelgrass needs clean, clear marine water. If water is clouded with suspended solids or other pollutants, eelgrass dies off. If too much nitrogen from land sources, such as effluent pipes and stormwater pipes regulated under the Clean Water Act, flows into water near eelgrass, it grows less densely and looks slimy, as it will be covered with epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants). This growth impedes the ability of eelgrass to photosynthesize.
Nitrogen pollution is a serious issue in nearshore environments. In addition to harming eelgrass, it fertilizes blooms of large mats of green algae on clam flats. We have seen this in coves of Casco Bay and in the Fore River which flows into the Bay. We have found that some of these blooms smother clams and other marine organisms, lower the pH of the sediments, and kill juvenile clams that get entangled in the algae when they try to settle onto the flats. Further, as these algal blooms die, carbon dioxide is released, which contributes to acidification of marine waters in the very areas relied upon as habitat by our valuable shellfish species.
DEP uses the health of eelgrass as an indicator of nitrogen pollution. If the receiving water near a wastewater discharge pipe has a concentration of .32 mg/l of nitrogen, then DEP examines nearby eelgrass beds to see if they are healthy. If the beds are thin and slimy in appearance, DEP determines whether the effluent from the discharge pipe could be contributing to the ill health. DEP can then limit the allowance for the amount of nitrogen that can be discharged from the pipe to restore water quality.
DEP cannot properly analyze and protect the health of our marine waters without the funds and staff to routinely map eelgrass beds.
Oil Spill Response:
In the event of an oil spill, the US Coast Guard, in coordination with other federal and state officials, sets up a command center and brings in trained experts to aid response. DEP’s maps are critical to these efforts. Eelgrass maps are used to make decisions regarding where to set out booms and can be used to make habitat restoration decisions.
Ought to Pass:
DEP should not have to cobble together resources for sporadic and incomplete mapping of eelgrass. DEP should be funded and staffed to provide on-going mapping of the entire coast in 5 years cycles. In this manner, DEP can best meet its regulatory obligations and protect our valuable marine waters. Friends of Casco Bay respectfully requests that this committee unanimously recommend that LD 559 pass.
Thank you for considering our testimony.
Friends of Casco Bay
Cc: Caleb Roebuck
To see this testimony as a PDF, click here.