The Gulf of Maine (GoM) lies at the epicenter of the most rapid warming trend in U.S. coastal waters. The GoM ecosystem supports the most valuable U.S. fishery (lobster) and the most valuable U.S. fishing seaport (New Bedford). Evidence is mounting that recent warming is affecting ecosystem structure and services, for example, closure of the northern shrimp fishery, impacts on Atlantic cod recovery, and recovery of endangered North Atlantic right whales.
To address regional needs to observe and interpret marine ecosystem change, NERACOOS and the Northeast Regional Ocean Council (NROC) have developed a science and implementation plan, with broad regional representation from state and federal agencies, universities and non-profit organizations, to initiate an Integrated Sentinel Monitoring Network (ISMN) for the Northeast U.S. region. The goal of the ISMN is to serve as a regional coordinating infrastructure, to collect observing data where there are gaps for key ecosystem variables, serve as a portal for access to the multiple regional observing datasets and facilitate integrated interpretation of ecosystem change. This MBON project will address a crucial gap for understanding phenological and long-term change in the GoM marine ecosystem that has been identified by the ISMN - namely, time series observations of plankton biodiversity at subannual scales. Time series collections will be conducted at a station located in Wilkinson Basin in western GoM and a station located in the Maine Coastal Current. NERACOOS and NROC, and the ISMN will undertake responsibility for finding sustained support of these time series, which were established over a decade ago. Phytoplankton and micro and mesozooplankton abundance and species diversity will be microscopically enumerated, and water samples for processing with an Imaging FlowCytobot and eDNA will be collected and analyzed. The ISMN will incorporate a citizen-science initiative to document jellyfish abundance. The observations thus compare traditional with new approaches to biodiversity assessment, expanding MBON into a coastal ecosystem where change is occurring rapidly.
The Gulf of Maine project will also expand MBON’s data management capabilities and add a new dimension to the MBON Seascape concept by integrating observations with modeling to predict change in the planktonic lipidscape. A key sentinel biodiversity variable is the abundance of the energy-rich (in the form of storage lipids), subarctic copepod, Calanus finmarchicus, which constitutes >75% of the region’s mesozooplankton biomass and is the primary lipidscape contributor. The sustainability of C. finmarchicus, at the southern edge of its range, is at risk due to climate-driven circulation changes related to the recent warming trend. We will use our extensive knowledge of the oceanographic mechanisms controlling C. finmarchicus abundance to integrate the time series observations, temperature and chlorophyll seascapes, NOAA plankton data and NERACOOS-supported dynamic ocean circulation modeling into predictions of change in the lipidscape, which is the primary energy source for planktivorous forage fish, including coastal herring and sandlance, the endangered right whale and even early life stages of lobster.
The lipidscape analysis will be applied in conjunction with visual and acoustic sightings of North Atlantic right whales to predict the whale’s foraging movement, for use in management decisions related to regulation of shipping lanes and entanglement in fishing gear. Documentation of shifting planktonic biodiversity and lipidscape will also have applications for understanding the future GoM ecosystem structure and function for NOAA’s Integrated Ecosystem Assessments, the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, and management of wild North Atlantic salmon stocks. More accurate knowledge of North Atlantic right whale movements and distribution has potential benefits to the DoD in planning its ship movements to avoid right whale encounters.