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Half of all eelgrass in Casco Bay has died within last four years, experts say

Eelgrass, according to Friends of Casco Bay, is home to juvenile lobster and fish. Without eelgrass, much of Maine's seafood economy loses its base, they said.

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — According to a report from Friends of Casco Bay, 54 percent of all eelgrass meadows in Casco Bay have died off since 2018. 

This comes as the 2022 to 2023 winter saw water temps reach four degrees above average.

"My first response was it's heartbreaking," Will Everitt, the executive director of Friends of Casco Bay said. "My second response was now is the time we have to do more than ever to protect the bay."

Everitt said eelgrass is dying due to a combination of consequences from the warm water.

Warm water attracts more invasive green crabs, which cut the eelgrass and eat softshell crabs, he said. This disturbs the naturally-occurring species, he said.

"When we have a really cold winter it can kill back the green crabs," Everitt said.

He added a warm winter won't kill as many green crabs, allowing them to reproduce and spawn more green crabs for summer and fall.

"The loss of this is tragic and could have a huge impact on our coastal waters," Everitt said.

Everitt added the warming oceans in Maine also result in more frequent algae blooms, which prevent the eelgrass from accessing proper sunlight to grow.

Fewer eelgrass meadows mean fewer lobsters in inshore waters, he added.

"A number of critters in the bay depend on this... the warming waters are going to do a number on this if it continues," Everitt said.

If the situation continues to worsen, Everitt suggested experts would recommend planting eelgrass from more southern states so that subspecies can handle the warmer temperatures Maine is set to experience.

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