"We absolutely need clean energy solutions, and our ocean resources are going to be a big part of that, but we must also consider the ocean’s plant and animal communities as we move ahead.
Ray Konisky, marine conservation ecologist
Why is the Gulf of Maine so important to New Hampshire?
New Hampshire only has a little open coastline on the Gulf of Maine – 18 miles. But we also have 235 miles of inland estuarine shoreline. So we have this unique situation because of our strong tides: whatever is out there in the Gulf of Maine shows up far inland twice a day. New Hampshire is small, but the ocean has great visibility and importance here.
How is the Conservancy using high-resolution maps of New Hampshire’s Great Bay to aid conservation in the Gulf of Maine?
There is a great deal of salt marsh in Great Bay Estuary and especially Hampton-Seabrook Estuary, which connects to the Great Marsh in Massachusetts, a major flyway for birds and an important fish nursery. One thing that concerns us about this area is sea level rise. Marshes will migrate inland as sea levels change, but not if roads and sea walls are in the way. In the marsh, inches matter. You’ve got a flat area and a thousand yards until the next inch of elevation. Marshes can only tolerate so much inundation before becoming mudflats.
What we want to find out, using these maps, is where these subtle elevation changes are located so that we can protect lands that aren’t salt marshes now, but have great potential to be.
What else is the Conservancy doing in New Hampshire to support the Gulf of Maine?
We’re wading into the water in oyster restoration. We once had large beds of oysters in our waters here, but they’re now near historic lows because of overharvesting, pollution and disease. Oysters are a lynchpin of estuarine health. They filter a tremendous amount of water: one adult oyster pumps – and filters – 20 gallons of water a day. As oysters clean the water, the increased light helps seagrass beds grow, and those beds can then provide habitat for fish.
To help bring back oyster populations, we’re making plans to rebuild an oyster reef in the Oyster River that has been damaged by sediments. We also have an outreach program with 15 families who are growing and tending to young oysters out on their docks, increasing the chance that the young oysters will tolerate disease and reach adulthood. Eventually we will put the oysters in reefs to help jumpstart beds that aren’t doing well.
What do you think is the single most important thing that needs to be done to keep the Gulf of Maine healthy and sustainable?
The Gulf of Maine is being looked at closely as an energy source – for wind, wave and tidal power, and now also for oil drilling. In New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts, there are many proposals to investigate energy infrastructure in the ocean. We absolutely need clean energy solutions, and our ocean resources are going to be a big part of that, but we must also consider the ocean’s plant and animal communities as we move ahead. If you put turbine blades into an estuary channel where migratory fish are traveling back and forth, you could end up with fish stew in a hurry.
We need to understand – and plan for – the infrastructure that will go along with these developments, like the traffic and the docks, and ensure that actions are taken to protect the critical functions of ecosystems. In New Hampshire, legislative committees are forming to investigate energy plans, and the Conservancy is a key partner at the table.
Ray Konisky is the marine conservation ecologist for The Nature Conservancy in New Hampshire. He has a Ph.D. from the University of New Hampshire in Environmental Science, an MBA from Boston University and a B.S. from the University of Maine in Wildlife Ecology. Ray’s professional work is focused on estuarine ecology, marine conservation, ecosystem modeling and database management.