Maine Coastal Islands
Bold, Beautiful but Fragile
by David McCaskill

When I gaze out from my sea kayak upon a cluster of spruce clad islands off of
our rockbound coast, the sight is so beautiful that it just plain hurts. If you
paddle or cruise the coast of Maine, you know what I mean.

These submerged mountains guard the coast and help create our rich marine
ecosystem. Even though these islands look rocky and rugged, they are really
quite fragile. The soils are thin and the number of visitors is increasing, so it's
important that visitors tread lightly.

Human activity has had an impact on the coastal islands for centuries. Many
were cleared for their timber, farmed, or used to raise sheep. In recent years,
our islands have developed a new economic value in eco-tourism.

These days, thousands of people come to Maine to paddle or cruise in private
boats or on commercial schooner trips. Many of their adventures include a
picnic or campout on Maine's 52 publicly accessible islands. That’s where the
potential for damage lies.

Trampling on fragile island vegetation or cutting trees to expand existing
camping areas not only damages the ecosystem, but also degrades the island
experience for the next visitors. Also, the traditional campfire poses a double
threat to self-contained island ecosystems. Forest fires on islands can be
disastrous in themselves, and burning the fallen wood from island trees takes
away future nutrients from the soils.

Speaking of island soils, there's another somewhat delicate subject -- poop.
That's right, how do you deal with the treatment and handling of human waste?
Sure, on a big brawny island a little buried waste from a few visitors could be
assimilated, but on a popular  smaller island it could be quite a problem.

So what's the "right" thing to do? You guessed it -- pack it out. For suggestions
on how to perform this maneuver, and other "Leave No Trace" tips, check out
"Fragile Islands - A Guide to Low-Impact Techniques," a document developed
by the
Maine Island Trail Association  a non-profit organization that promotes
island stewardship.

Another publication that might be useful is
Hot Showers! Maine Coast Lodging for
Kayaks and Sailors
by Lee Bumstead. Paddling or cruising during the day and
staying the night at B&B's, inns or mainland commercial campgrounds is a truly
low-impact way (especially for larger groups) to enjoy our precious island

So, if you're on the water, enjoy our public islands but be kind and tread softly.
All the good views are from the rugged, rocky ledges anyway.

Click here for a listing of Maine Bed & Breakfasts and Inns

About the author: This column was submitted by David McCaskill, an Environmental
Engineer with the Maine DEP's Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management.
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