Island and coastal communities are on the front line of environmental changes associated with sea level rise, climate change, and ocean acidification. Across New England, fishermen and scientists are observing notable shifts in the ecosystem and dramatic changes in the number of fish in the water. Years of harvesting pressure paired with the effects of warming waters and an ever-changing ocean ecosystem have led to shifting environmental conditions and challenges for our fisheries. Scientists, managers, and fishermen have all begun to discuss how we can and should be planning for the unpredictable impacts these shifts will have on the marine environment and the communities that depend on the ocean resources.  

We do this by:

  • Helping fishermen and communities document the environmental shifts being seen;
  • Helping communities and fisheries managers understand the shifts they are seeing in the broader context of a changing Gulf of Maine by convening conversations with multiple perspectives from fishermen, scientists, and managers;
  • Helping fishermen and communities communicate these shifts to policy makers whose decisions could be informed by their input;
  • Helping fishermen develop more resilient fishing businesses so that they can better withstand shifts in the ecosystem.

Preparing for Sea Level Rise

Flooding on Vinalhaven after a storm surge

In May 2017, the Island Institute received a grant through the Gulf Research Program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to fund a collaborative project that focuses on disaster preparedness in Maine’s island and coastal communities and addresses threats faced from environmental change and natural disasters related to sea level rise.

Working with a network of 150 partners, we will lead the team in identifying the risks to Maine’s working waterfront, confronting the challenges encountered by these communities, and implementing effective solutions that increase community resilience in the face of changing threats to our coast.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has identified the Gulf of Maine as particularly vulnerable to both long-term environmental change and short-term natural and manmade disasters. The 120 island and coastal communities along Maine's 3,000-mile coastline are mostly small, isolated, and highly dependent on the lobster fishery. This reliance on a single-species fishery makes these communities even more vulnerable to projected climate change impacts.

The goal of the Island Institute’s project is to:

  • Help Maine’s island and coastal communities better understand the risks related to storm damage, and how these risks are projected to change due to sea level rise;
  • Give communities the tools to translate this increased understanding into informed decision-making and actionable steps to enhance resiliency;
  • Establish durable networks to support future understanding of scientific data, decision-making, and preparation, applicable to a broad range of potential natural and manmade disasters.

Partners in the project include: The University of Maine, Bowdoin College, Maine Sea Grant, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Maine Coastal Program, Darling Marine Center and Knox County Emergency Management, as well as other academic and technical experts, county, state, and federal agency staff, and local leaders in island and coastal communities, including Chebeague, Vinalhaven, and Islesboro, which have begun studies to understand the investments they need to make to prepare for sea level rise. In addition, key advisors include Dr. Tora Johnson, director of the GIS Service Center & Laboratory at the University of Maine at Machias, and Dr. Eileen Johnson, lecturer and program manager for the environmental studies program at Bowdoin College.

ShoreUp Maine Technical Assistance Fund

Technical Assistance Fund for Communities Addressing Sea Level Rise

Communities along the Maine Coast are taking steps to address coastal flooding exacerbated by sea level rise. Each community faces unique challenges particular to their working waterfront, existing infrastructure and citizen engagement. Because of that, each community is taking a different approach to mitigating and planning for the impacts of rising seas.

The Island Institute’s  Sea Level Rise Technical Assistance Fund (TAF)is set up to provide flexible funding for communities to plan for the assistance they need and start taking the steps that are right for their communities. Grant requests can range from $500-$6000.

Who is Eligible?

  • Nonprofit organizations and community associations
  • Municipalities
  • Municipal Committees
  • Businesses
  • Schools

The TAF is designed to support technical assistance, information gathering or education projects. Funds cannot be used for direct infrastructure work.

Example eligible projects (including, but not limited to):

  • Floodmap corrections/updates
  • Assessing the vulnerability of working waterfront infrastructure (including, fuel tanks, bait coolers, and other infrastructure related to handling lobsters)
  • Incorporating SLR into comp plans, permitting, or disaster preparedness plans
  • Modeling future SLR impacts · Walking a community through the Maine Flood Resilience Checklist
  • Preparing federal or other grant applications
  • Regionalizing national data sets
  • Community exchanges to learn from elsewhere
  • Bringing in experts for presentations

TAF Application and Details: 


The Island Institute’s Sea Level Rise Team is available to assist communities with project development. Please contact Susie Arnold or Bri Warner for more information.

Sea Level Rise Symposium

On November 28, 2017, the Island Institute held a daylong symposium on coastal flooding and sea level rise at The University of Southern Maine in Portland.

The event, "Staying Above High Water: Helping Prepare Maine’s Coastal Communities for Coastal Flooding and Sea Level Rise," was designed to bring together community leaders, technical experts, and others working in the field of coastal community adaptation to hear the latest information on coastal hazards, how best to visualize and communicate vulnerability in Maine, and options for adaptation.

For more information and links to the speaker presentations, see the event page here.

Ocean Acidification

Dr. Susie Arnold collecting data about the ocean chemistry.

The potential impact of ocean acidification along Maine’s coast is largely unknown. With a heavy economic reliance on organisms that build shells, any changes to water chemistry can present a significant threat to the future viability of our coastal communities. For the last few years, we have been working to make sure that they are better prepared for ocean acidification. Island Institute Marine Scientist Dr. Susie Arnold served on the Maine legislature’s Commission to Study the Effects of Coastal and Ocean Acidification.  

In 2015, the Commission issued a report identifying critical knowledge gaps in our understanding of our vulnerability, as well as ways in which we can respond, including the use of phytoremediation to reduce acidity through kelp farming.

Shell-forming species in Maine’s coastal waters, such as clams, mussels, oysters, and lobsters, are at risk due to ocean acidification. Ocean acidification is a term used to describe the changing chemistry of the ocean caused primarily by uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere. This oceanic uptake of CO2 has direct consequences on ocean chemistry, leading to decreases in pH and lower calcium carbonate saturation in surface waters, which together are referred to as ocean acidification. While the pH of the ocean had held stable at 8.2 for over 600,000 years, in the last 200 years its pH has dropped to 8.1. This may not sound like a big change, but the pH scale is logarithmic and as a result, each whole pH value below 7 is ten times more acidic than the next higher value. Predictions of declines of surface pH from present-day levels of 8.1 to 7.8-7.7 over the next century raise questions about impacts on the long-term viability of fisheries. 

For more information on our ocean acidification research, visit our Aquaculture page, or contact Susie Arnold Ph.D., Marine Scientist.

Created by Julia Maine

Other ocean acidification work

Ocean Acidification Vulnerability Workshop

The Island Institute, in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) hosted a workshop at the Maine Maritime Museum on October 7, 2014 to discuss potential impacts of ocean acidification (OA) on coastal communities, learn about vulnerability assessment techniques, and discuss mitigation and adaptation strategies for Maine to consider.

Read the full workshop report in our library.

Ocean Acidification: First Maine Meeting

The Island Institute hosted a meeting on confronting ocean acidification in Augusta, Maine on January 16, 2014. Participants included fishermen, shellfish harvesters, aquaculturists, scientists, legislators, state agencies staff, representatives from conservation and water quality organizations, and others in fields impacted by ocean acidification. The group heard presentations on the science of ocean acidification, concerns from stakeholders, national, regional, and state efforts underway to tackle ocean acidification, and some potential mitigation and adaptation strategies. Click to see the PDF icon OA meeting summaryPDF icon agenda, and PDF icon presentation notes.

​A Climate of Change Workshop & Film Series

During the summer of 2013, the Island Institute hosted a two-day climate change workshop focusing on the state of science and fishermen’s observations from an ecosystem perspective. Scientists, policy makers, and resource harvesters discussed how new and proposed management strategies could be effective in the face of climate change. What came out of the workshop was a comprehensive report detailing issues, observations, and suggested next steps.

View the full Climate of Change Workshop Report

Predictive Capabilities Workshop

The Island Institute hosted a workshop in December, 2014, co-hosted with the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, Maine Lobstermen’s Association, and Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance. Read the full report and individual presentations

"A Climate of Change" Film Series

In addition to the report, a new video series was produced which highlights threatened fishing communities in Maine, Alaska, and Florida -  and what they’re doing to adapt to these inevitable changes.

Part 1: Warming Waters in the Gulf of Maine

Scientists, managers, and fishermen have all begun to discuss how we can and should be planning for the inevitable, but unpredictable, climate impacts on the marine ecosystem.

Part 2: Ocean Acidification in Alaska

Ocean acidification is a global problem, but its impact is being felt first and felt hardest in the Arctic. The state of Maine is looking towards Alaska and seeking to take a lesson from the experiences of fishermen there.

Part 3: Collapse and Adapatation in the Apalachicola Oyster Fishery

In early 2014, Mainers traveled to Apalachicola, Florida, once home to one of the most valuable oyster fisheries in the country, to see what happens when a fishery collapses completely and what the community is doing to adapt and revitalize itself. 


Part 4: The Future of Aquaculture

Part 4 returns to Maine to focus on a positive future for the state’s fishing communities through aquaculture and how more and more resource harvesters are seeing farmed shellfish and sea vegetables as a vital way to stay on the water.