College of the Atlantic students travel Frenchman Bay by boat to conduct interviews in waterfront... College of the Atlantic students travel Frenchman Bay by boat to conduct interviews in waterfront towns as part of the Mapping Ocean Stories project. The climate change-oriented work was recently supported with a $200,000 grant.

The project, entitled Mapping Ocean Stories (MOS), utilizes the work of students, staff, faculty, fishermen, and other community members along with connections to partner organizations to build a useful resource that coalesces complex and nuanced information gathered from interviews with local stakeholders. Project organizers, including computer science professor Laurie Baker, history professor Todd Little-Siebold, COA coastal community engagement program lead and researcher Galen Koch of Maine Sound + Story, and Natalie Springuel ’91 of Maine Sea Grant, intend to make the collection accessible to policy makers and community leaders facing critical decisions around shifting ocean resources due to climate change.

The core ideology behind this work is to “bring more voices into the policy conversations in a meaningful way,” Baker says. Maine fishermen have been evolving worker-owned, cooperative-based, and ecologically sustainable business models for the last century. MOS not only emphasizes the importance of hearing community stakeholder perspectives when making decisions that impact them, but understanding that local knowledge is a powerful resource that can help generate better policy decision-making.

“The goal is to amplify the voices of coastal communities and unite them to provide a broader picture of the changing environment and adaptations in coastal areas of Downeast Maine… using data analysis to offer a bird’s eye view over several generations, surfacing broader trends to inform the various actors responding to climate change in Maine,” the MOS team states in the project proposal.

Natalie Springuel '91 of Maine Sea Grant discusses the Mapping Ocean Stories project at the Maine... Natalie Springuel ’91 of Maine Sea Grant discusses the Mapping Ocean Stories project at the Maine Fishermen's Forum.Oral histories, collected during interviews from stakeholders, combine with spatial data points to comprise the foundation of this work. “Our interviews include members of the wider community interacting with Maine’s coastlines including fishermen and other members of the working waterfront, recreational boaters, the Department of Marine Resources, shorefront owners, and more,” Koch states in the grant.

“Fishermen notice a lot when they are out working in the environment. There is a lot of really rich information and knowledge that often gets overlooked because it is difficult to incorporate into policy decisions. Data science methods can help take some of that qualitative information and make it easier to see and understand where things are occurring,” explains Baker. “Pairing data on when and where things occur with people’s lived experiences can help more productive conversations occur in ocean-use planning,” Baker says.

Baker explains that the structure of this long-term, interdisciplinary project involving the work of many moving parts was not based on any project that has been done like this before, but instead evolved organically, as professors, students, and partners made connections with communities in the COA region. She adds that the project is still in its egg-hatching phase and that she is excited to see where the tides will take it.

MOS has been an ongoing project since 2018 supported by the Fund for Maine Islands, a partnership between College of the Atlantic and the Island Institute. The project has an office on campus and is staffed with work-study students. The new funding will support the further development of two key outputs of the MOS team—the Maine Historic Fisheries Atlas and the Maine Sound + Story archive, an online digital repository of oral histories, and the corresponding spatial data to publicly and openly tell the story of change along Maine’s working waterfront.

COA computer science professor Laurie Bake goes over charts of Frenchman Bay with Camden Hunt &#3... COA computer science professor Laurie Bake goes over charts of Frenchman Bay with Camden Hunt '22 as part of the preparation work for the Mapping Ocean Stories project, which seeks to help regional waterfront communities prepare for climate change.MOS grew out of a class taught by Little-Siebold, Springuel, and Nick Battista of the Island Institute. Then, with Springuel’s help, MOS turned into a long-term oral history collection project. It became a work-study position for COA students interested in collecting and transcribing oral histories from local coastal residents. When Baker joined the project, she brought computer science to the table, which introduced visualizing data in a comprehensive way for decision makers. The ongoing work of this project also led to Navigating Change, a three-credit monster course taught in the fall of 2023.

As a result of previous MOS projects, students have created sound installations and experiential audio story pieces and exhibited them in the communities from which they came. The Frenchman Bay Oral History Project has a specific goal of blending audio data with spatial data, with two-interviewer methods, so that as the interviewee speaks, locations mentioned are recorded on a map.

The MOS project has conducted over 250 unique interviews with coastal Mainers, archived and identified 350 historic interviews, coded and transcribed over 200 of those interviews, created three community exhibits, and partnered with a handful of local historical societies, explains Baker. “Supporting communities to make use of the interviews and archives they already have on hand is a crucial part of our collaborative mission,” she adds.

Data visualization has great utility for making complex information accessible, Baker says. She hopes that the project will unite information in meaningful and productive ways not only for stakeholders and policymakers, but also across communities, as solutions are created while navigating swift and dramatic climate shifts.

“It can make it easier for a policymaker to engage with stakeholders if they are able to hear an interview talking about their perspectives. One of our goals of this project is to understand the topics and trends in the Maine Sound + Story archives and to connect them based on their themes, which can also help us see where people across different communities are facing similar challenges. My hope is to make connections between communities so people can put their heads together, especially among folks that have found solutions,” Baker says.