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Assessing the Health of Otter Cove and Potential Pathways to Remediate Problems

Mount Desert, Maine

Featured image for the project, Assessing the Health of Otter Cove and Potential Pathways to Remediate Problems

Acadia National Park, Photo courtesy of Pixabay

For many years, community members who live around and use Otter Cove have been concerned about declines in the health of the cove, indicated by marked declines in populations of fish, clams, and other organisms in the cove. Problems appear to be related to tidal restrictions caused by a causeway built in 1939 and contamination caused by a water treatment facility that dumped contaminated effluent into the cove. We propose to assess the health of the cove, causes of problems, and options to remediate problems. Restoring the health of the cove will help community members re-establish fishing, clamming, recreation, and other historical uses of the cove important to the community.

Description

The Community

The Town of Mount Desert and the town’s Sustainability Committee are leading this project. Mount Desert is a rural community (population 2,100) that covers the middle third of Mount Desert Island, which is also home to most of Acadia National Park. Mount Desert includes six distinct villages. Otter Cove, site of this project, is a central feature of the village of Otter Creek and is historically important to the community as a site for fishing, clamming, recreation, and other activities. With National Park Service ownership of nearly all of the land around Otter Cove and declines in the health of the cove, community use of the cove has declined dramatically. The community would like to improve the health of the cove to help restore some of these historical uses of the cove.

Previous work on the health of Otter Cove has been limited. The National Park Service and the Otter Creek Aid Society have documented history of the community, including historical use of and ties to the cove. National Park Service also has extensive historical documentation of the causeway that restricts tidal flow to the cove. Maine Department of Environmental Protection and US EPA documented that effluent from the water treatment facility in Otter Creek contained heavy metals, including copper, zinc, and cyanide, at concentrations that exceeded maximum regulatory limits. The National Park Service and researchers have also surveyed benthic biodiversity in the cove, although we do not know of anyone who has assessed contamination in marine animals.

The Project

The community would like to understand the current health of Otter Cove, causes of declines in cove health, and potential ways to remediate problems and improve the health of the cove. Specifically, the community is concerned about dramatic declines in populations of fish, clams, and other marine organisms within the cove. The community hopes to use the results of the project to work with the National Park Service to plan and implement steps that could improve the health of the cove.

We believe the initial steps of the project will involve site visits, interviews with residents and scientists familiar with cove conditions and history, and assessment of existing data describing cove conditions. The National Park Service and Schoodic Institute may be able to assist with some of this work—e.g., identifying historical records, sampling intertidal biodiversity. With this information, we would ask the scientist to craft an initial assessment of the health of the cove, plausible causes of declines in health, and work with the community to outline next steps necessary to work toward improving the health of Otter Cove. Potential next steps that the scientist might recommend could include further studies to document tidal flows, contaminants, experimental restoration of clam populations, or other steps necessary before larger-scale remediation is possible.

Timeline and Milestones

The timeline for this project is flexible (6-18 months) dependent on the availability of the scientist. National Park Service plans to do rehabilitation work on the causeway during 2023 and 2024. We expect milestones to include compiling existing historical records and data, assessment of data, and communication of results to the project team via a presentation and written report.

 

Project Team

Community Leads

Durlin Lunt Headshot

Durlin Lunt is the Town Manager for the Town of Mount Desert, a position he has held since 2010. In that role he oversees day-to-day operations of the town government.

Phil Lichtenstein Headshot

Phil Lichtenstein chairs the town Sustainability Committee. The mission of the committee is to keep informed on sustainability issues for the town; to review and analyze data and information pertaining to the impact of town activities on the tax rate and environment; to recommend to the Board of Selectmen policies, ordinances and action plans to implement practical, timely efforts to reduce costs, reduce energy use, and reduce the impact of town activities on our environment.

 

Partners

Rebecca Cole-Will headshot

National Park Service Contact

Rebecca Cole-Will is the head of Resource Management for Acadia National Park. She oversees the management of natural and cultural resources in the park, including monitoring of resource conditions and management actions to maintain the health of park resources. Her research background is in archeology.

 

Community Science Fellow

Abe Miller Headshot

Dr. Abe Miller-Rushing is the Science Coordinator for Acadia National Park. He oversees research in the park and works with partners to address priority science needs. His research background is in conservation, forest ecology, and climate change adaptation.

Scientist Wanted

Scientist Role

We seek a scientist who can help us assess the current health of Otter Cove (e.g., quality of water, sediment, tidal flow, biodiversity), likely causes of declines in health, and next steps necessary to remediate problems and improve the health of the cove. Specific activities will include compiling and analyzing historical documents and existing data and presenting results and recommendations to the Project Team via a presentation and written report. National Park Service and Schoodic Institute staff will help the scientist identify historical documents and existing data. The scientist might also interview local residents and other scientists familiar with local conditions to inform the analysis. The community would prefer a scientist from Maine who can come for one or more site visits, but remote engagement is okay. The community is open to students engaging in the project.

Desired Skills and Qualifications

  • Experience assessing the health of intertidal and coastal marine ecosystems
  • Experience working in areas with human-caused tidal restrictions and heavy metal contaminants
  • Experience and/or desire to work with local communities
  • Experience working with regulatory agencies, such as US EPA, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and Maine Department of Marine Resource
  • Respect for community knowledge and expertise
  • Prefer scientist who can visit the community in-person

 

Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact to which they can contribute as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators. This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage.

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Collaborating Organization(s)

The Town of Mount Desert and National Park Service are lead organizations on this project. Other stakeholders who we will keep informed during the project include the Otter Creek Aid Society, Town Shellfish Committee, Maine Department of Marine Resources, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and Acadia National Park Advisory Commission. The role of these stakeholders may evolve as the project develops.