SMAST Mount Hope Bay study update scheduled March 26

Scientists at the School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth are studying the evolution of the ecosystem in Mount Hope Bay.

SMAST Mount Hope Bay study update scheduled March 26 

Scientists at the School for Marine Science and Technology (SMAST) at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth are studying the evolution of the ecosystem in Mount Hope Bay. They have just completed Phase I of a five-year project and are developing the Mount Hope Bay Natural Laboratory (MHBNL), with which they hope to assess the health of the Bay. Phase I ended with the publication of a fact-finding report titled, "Framework for Formulating the Mount Hope Bay Natural Laboratory: A Synthesis and Summary." 

A public forum will be held on March 26, 2003, at which SMAST scientists will update the public on the current status of the project and introduce preliminary results. It will take place from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at UMass Dartmouth's Advanced Technology and Manufacturing Center, 151 Martine Street, Fall River. One of the important changes under study is the decline of winter flounder in Mount Hope Bay. 

Mount Hope Bay, located in the northeast corner of Narragansett Bay, straddles Massachusetts and Rhode Island and is at the receiving end of the Taunton River and five smaller rivers. "When we discuss Mount Hope Bay, we can't ignore Narragansett Bay," says Dr. Rodney Rountree, Principal Researcher for Fish Ecology for the MHBNL. Existing data show that the reduction in fish stocks appears to be occurring across Narragansett Bay and is not confined to Mount Hope Bay. To find the answers to the decline in Mount Hope Bay, the scope of scientists must investigate the causes regionally, beyond Mount Hope Bay. 

According to the scientists, understanding change in Mount Hope Bay is not simple. Certain indicators show that the Bay is not as healthy as it once was. For example, eelgrass, an underwater plant sensitive to changes in water quality and found in shallow waters, has disappeared from Mount Hope Bay. The MHBNL was created to investigate the potential causes of problems such as the decline of winter flounder and the disappearance of eelgrass. 

"Most likely, the causes of these and other changes in the Bay are the result of a web of interactions between many factors, including human activity, regional and global warming, and natural ecological cycles that can occur over decades and are poorly understood. One a day-to-day basis, physical factors in Mount Hope Bay, such as water temperature, salinity, currents, wind patterns, heights of the tides, and water quality, among others, play significant roles in the ecology of the Bay," says Dr. Dan MacDonald, Program Manager of the MHBNL. 

Other SMAST scientists collaborating on the project include Dr. Lou Goodman, Dr. Wendell Brown, and Dr. Brian Howes. The MHBNL project is slated to end in June 2006, but the research team hopes that studies can continue beyond that date. During the next phase (Phase II), scientists will produce computer simulations of interactions in the ecosystem and test their results using real observations. 

The MHBNL is the brainchild of SMAST Director, Dr. Brian Rothschild. Funded by a grant for $1,100,000 from USGen New England, Inc., MHBNL is a system of projects based in Mount Hope Bay, 

For further information, telephone SMAST at 508-999-8193. 


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