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The ‘Best Damn Lobstah’ (Is Vanishing)

Tom Osborne

Recently my wife and I returned from a leaf-peeping road trip from New Hampshire to Maine. We were with long-time friends and enjoyed immensely the panoply of autumnal hues that never ceased dazzling us. Vibrant crimson and shades of orange and yellow abounded mile after mile.

As we entered one village a road sign read: “Best Damn Lobstah.” Lobster and Maine, as is well-known, go hand-in-hand. While we didn’t stop at the restaurant nearest the sign, we assuredly had our share of lobster at other eateries along the highway.

At a cozy and charming B&B in Lubec, Maine, I read an article in the Bangor Daily News captioned, “Researchers: State ready to take action on climate change.” The opening paragraph stated: “The sporadic 90-degree summer days are going to occur much more often in the next century. The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans, which means uncertainty for the lobster industry.” Moreover, the director of the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute noted the threats to public health posed by global warming, “such as cancer and autism.” I had never heard of this linkage before.

So there we were 3,000 miles across the country on the Atlantic coast where we learned that scientists and locals are very concerned about a warming Earth, and especially a warming ocean. U.S. News and World Report (March 1, 2019) found that the value of Maine’s lobster catch in 2018 was $484.5 million. This is a big chunk of change for a small state whose economy is dependent on its signature seafood. Further warming of Maine’s chilly coastal waters, according to that source, could push the lobster population further north (presumably up into New Brunswick, Canada). It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what would happen to Maine’s tourist industry if (when?) its lobsters vanish.

Laguna’s coast, too, has been warming, so much so that (as I noted in my previous column) marine biologists have linked the withering and decimation of our sea star population with that phenomenon. What about the condition and numbers of our spiny lobsters? Biologist Dr. Sandy Dildine, who monitors our local waters, was reported by the Laguna Beach Independent as finding that since the Marine Protected Area designation has been in effect, “It (the spiny lobster population) bounced back almost immediately.” The phrase “bounced back” implies that that population had been over-fished prior to the implementation of the MPA. But as the Pacific continues to warm, due largely to sequestered carbon emissions plus urban runoff, will our MPA be enough to protect our local lobster population? I hope so, however, as on the coast of Maine, there is reason for concern.

All of the above focus on warming waters and lobster populations along local coastlines in Maine and California should rightfully be seen within the context of the much larger picture, namely, the blockbuster September 2019 report, titled Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. More than 100 scientists from 36 nations compiled the document, Chapter 5 of which addresses the impacts of warming oceans and acidification on marine ecosystems. As we the electorate begin to piece together the local with the global outlooks, I think we need to ask ourselves what can and should our city, our state, and our country do to save our imperiled oceans. Of this much I’m certain: governments and people must shut off the tap of carbon emissions that are killing coral reefs and endangering marine habitats and species around the world. Restaurants won’t be bragging about serving the “Best Damn Lobstah” in the future unless we act to preserve these critters and the waters they live in now.

Tom Osborne, an environmental historian, authored “Coastal Sage: Peter Douglas and the Fight to Save California’s Shore” (2017). He serves as a co-leader of the Laguna Beach chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby ([email protected]).

 

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