Three University of Maine projects have been awarded a competitive seed grant to facilitate research collaborations between disciplines, academic units, and marine-related research centers under the UMaine MARINE Initiative.

The purpose of this seed grant is to focus on collaborative and innovative pilot studies, with the clear intention of using this work to elevate future external proposals to a highly competitive level.

Professors and research staff/professional scientists were invited to submit proposals in October, addressing a challenge, concern or timely question in marine science. Supported projects receive prizes of up to $35,000.

Summaries of the awarded projects:

Do biological particles pick up and remove microplastic fibers from the ocean?

Marine plastic pollution is a pervasive problem in all of the world’s oceans, including Maine’s coastline. Microplastics pose health risks to humans, fish and wildlife, and therefore have significant economic implications. Ocean plastic pollution is part of a complex cycle, with estimated inputs to the oceans exceeding known removal rates. This project proposes to analyze a set of microplastic samples obtained from sinking particles collected in the eastern North Atlantic that may contain some of the first direct evidence of the biological removal of plastic from the ocean. The results of the analysis would be relevant to the cycling of microplastics in the highly seasonal and productive coastal ocean environment of Maine. This knowledge will inform the sustainable management of plastic pollution in the shared “commons” of Maine’s coastline and blue economy.

UMaine collaborators include Margaret (Meg) Estapa, assistant professor of chemical oceanography; Onur Apul, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Lauren Ross, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering; Mikayla Clark, graduate student in the School of Marine Science; Sudheera Yaparatne, postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Colleen Durkin, external collaborator, is a scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, California.

Build partnerships to provide Jonesport and Beals communities with economic data to guide local decision-making

Municipal officials in small towns are responsible for making decisions related to the adaptation of their communities to environmental changes and other socially and economically disruptive events (such as the COVID-19 pandemic). These vulnerabilities are particularly notable in the small coastal communities of Maine where reliance on commercial fishing makes them particularly vulnerable to fluctuations and collapses in their fisheries, as well as other environmental and economic shocks. The researchers propose a pilot project to develop and model the social, economic and technological frameworks needed to guide decision-making at the local level in the aftermath of the pandemic.

UMaine collaborators include Kristen Grant of Maine Sea Grant and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, and Megan Bailey of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center.

Developing Pathways for New Approaches to Blue Carbon Science: Filling a Critical Knowledge Gap in Coastal Ecosystem Management Using an eDNA Model Collaborative Science Initiative

Blue carbon has been identified as a critical research need in the Maine Climate Action Plan. Accurate carbon accounting will help determine the state’s climate neutrality, while increase the potential for new economic opportunities involving carbon credits. These ecosystems provide invaluable services that protect coastal communities from effects of climate change such as storm surge protection and coastal erosion. Tide marshes are particularly affected by human activities and threatened by sea level rise. In Maine, about half of the tidal marshes are affected by flow restrictions from culverts or roads level crossings, which may threaten further losses. Removing these restrictions may restore the ecosystem functioning of marshes, but identifying the need to lift restrictions and monitoring the reinstatement of these restrictions can be costly and time consuming. This project proposes to use environmental DNA (eDNA) to better understand the links between microorganism communities and carbon sequestration in restricted and unrestricted marsh areas.

UMaine collaborators include Andrew Rominger, assistant professor of ecological bioinformatics; Suzanne Ishaq, Assistant Professor of Animal and Veterinary Sciences Bridie McGreavy, associate professor of environmental communication; Katharine Ruskin, Lecturer and Undergraduate Coordinator in Ecology and Environmental Sciences; and Heather Richard, first-year P.hD. student in ecology and environmental sciences.

UMaine MARINE brings together researchers interested in all areas of marine science, including but not limited to oceanography, marine biology, policy, fisheries, aquaculture, marine science, economics, social sciences, anthropology and marine sciences. For more information visit the UMaine MARINE website.

Contact: [email protected]