Schubel speaks on the Gulf of Maine
Last Tuesday afternoon, Bowdoin's Environmental Studies
Department hosted President and CEO of the New England Aquarium in Boston,
MA, Dr. Jerry R. Schubel. His talk centered around an upcoming effort
to take a Census of Marine Life (CoML), and the current state of the Gulf
of Maine, a project he helped initiate. Schubel holds degrees from Alma
College and Harvard University, as well as a Ph. D in Oceanography from
Johns Hopkins University. His talk was entitled, "Scientists &
the Future of the Gulf of Maine: What Roles Should They Play?"
"Where you see scientists," Schubel said, "I
want you to read not just natural and physical scientists, but social
scientists as well."
Schubel went on to assert that the Gulf of Maine will be
an "environmental battlefield" over the next decade. Historically,
the Gulf has been commercially overexploited; the regional extermination
of cod, puffins, and the near extinction of the right whale are salient
examples. Such usage in the past has hurt the coast's "sense of place,"
according to Schubel.
"Without the fishing villages, I don't think it would
be Maine," he said, "and without fishing, there would be no
the 'sense of place' is as much a function of human
activities as nature's."
For Schubel, this is justification for conscientious monitoring
and ecosystem management in the Gulf. He used a theatrical analogy to
portray the Gulf, with individual species, including humans, playing their
parts on a stage unique in the world represented by the Gulf's special
"The Gulf has all the elements of great theatre,"
said Schubel, citing the many ecosystem changes and large tidal variations
as plot twists, and humans as the complex leading characters in the "play,"
alternating between villains and heroes. The interactions between the
environment and its non-human and human inhabitants foreshadow towards
the end of the play, Schubel noted. Still, the outcome is very much a
continual finish, as adaptive behavior can always affect the consequences.
"This is a very dynamic system. Very stressful,"
said Schubel "Life [in the Gulf of Maine] favors the generalist,
rather than the specialist
If you're gonna live in the Gulf of Maine,
you'd better be a generalist, so you can cope with dramatic changes in
At the same time, Schubel noted that the systems in the Gulf are very "tough and resilient," and are conducive to human management. In order to ensure that the "play" ends satisfactorily, he has joined with other leading oceanographic experts in advocating the CoML project, a ten-year, one billion dollar project. This will help answer three questions: "What lived in the sea before significant human impacts?", "What lives in the sea?", and "What will live in the sea?"
From these, Schubel hopes that inferences can be made concerning
the interactions between different groups of animals and their environment
Schubel concluded his talk with a challenge to the audience
and the Bowdoin community to initiate an "aquatic forum" on
campus as a mechanism for the development of a Marine Protection Area
(MPA) for the Gulf. He believes that the College could take a leadership
role in what he feels will be a contentious issue in the near future.
Such MPAs allow for societal management of aquatic resources based on
expert opinion acquired in the aforementioned forum. The key to this is
maintaining open communications between contending interests and persistence
in developing compromises.
"Society has a role in deciding what we want the Gulf
of Maine to be," he said.