Paul Watson
Paul Watson, an early member of Greenpeace and founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, hopes to make Mainers more aware of the changes the state's waters have seen over time. (Courtesy Parley)
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Editor’s note: Parley for the Oceans announced on Aug. 3 that due to circumstances outside of the company’s control, the screening of “Our Waters” and the accompanying panel discussion have been postponed until fall.

An early, influential member of Greenpeace who later founded the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will speak with other ocean advocates at an environmental activism event premiering a new documentary film on Aug. 11 in Portland.

Paul Watson, a longtime wildlife conservation and environmental activist, plans to discuss the state of the oceans and in particular the Gulf of Maine. In an interview, he suggested Mainers aren’t unfamiliar with the ocean’s environmental changes.

“People in Maine are intimately close to the threats that are happening in the ocean,” he said.

Watson said evidence of the damage done to the oceans over time can be seen in the disappearance of some species, like the walrus.

“I’ve seen the diminishment of the fisheries over the years – the destruction of the Atlantic salmon, the depletion of the cod,” he said. “This is an ongoing process and it gets worse all the time.”

Josh Murphy
Josh Murphy, director of the documentary “Our Waters,” said the film highlights the efforts of the Frenchman Bay community to stand against large-scale aquaculture. (Courtesy Parley)

The event at O’Maine Studios, 54 Danforth St., from 6-9 p.m. on Aug. 11, is intended to encourage the audience to consider the future of Maine’s waters and to protect them. Organized by the global environmental network Parley for the Oceans, it will include the premiere of “Our Waters,” a documentary film about the opposition of Frenchman Bay community members to a large-scale industrial salmon farm.

The film – directed by Josh Murphy, who will also speak that evening – chronicles the community’s response to American Aquafarms, a Norwegian company that proposed building a large salmon farm. The Maine Department of Marine Resources eventually denied the company’s proposal in April.

Murphy said the people were what made him so excited to tell the story. “It wasn’t a bunch of environmentalists speaking from out of the area,” he said. “It was the people who’ve been there for generations saying ‘we don’t want this.’”

Murphy said he hopes that having those voices heard and showing the film inspires more Mainers to stand up for what’s best for their waters.

“(Nordic Aquafarms is) certainly not going to pack up and go home,” he said.

The idea behind the Parley event, he explained, is to inspire a discussion about Maine’s future as it relates to the water and the environment, including “less intense” aquaculture that supports sustainability.

Abby Barrows
Abby Barrows, a Maine marine scientist and oyster farmer, said she hopes to highlight the benefits of smaller scale, restorative aquaculture and how it can become a bigger part of the working waterfront. (Courtesy Parley)

Also set to speak is Maine native Abby Barrows, a marine scientist and oyster farmer, who hopes to make the distinction between large-scale aquaculture and sustainable, restorative aquaculture like oyster and kelp farming.

“For me,” Barrows said, “it’s a way of thinking about maintaining some of the heart and soul of our coastline.”

Barrows said the conversation is about the future of the working waterfront as well, with aquaculture not only being a reliable business model, but oysters and kelp in particular actively doing good for the ecosystem.

Oysters can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, which can improve water quality and help other forms of ocean life thrive, she said. 

With the many factors negatively impacting Maine’s waters, more consideration of the future of aquaculture is a potential avenue that the event plans to highlight.

The Aug. 11 event will also feature Greg Long, a big-wave surfer and environmental activist, and Bri Warner, chief executive of Atlantic Sea Farms, based in Biddeford.

If there’s one thing to take away from the film and discussion, Watson said, it’s that even things people don’t think about can have a negative impact on the environment and the ocean.

“People should be aware of everything we do,” he said, “and how it affects the ecosystems we live in.”