Kara Sassone Kara Sassone is a multimedia journalist who has worked as a web producer, television reporter, anchor, shooter, and editor.

From the depths of the sea the camera slowly makes its way to the surface, glimpsing through the ripples of the water, to the sun just on the other side of the crisp water. The water gurgles. The air is quiet. The sun is bright.

This is how Mayday – Gulf of Maine in Distress begins. Over the course of six days, a team from the Portland Press Herald used this video to present its seven-part series about climate change.

The headline conveys the urgency of the topic, and the team worked on a strict deadline to get it published in the last week of October 2015. And while much of it took tedious planning, this video was born out of a typical story meeting.

“[Photographer] Greg [Rec] told us he had this great video that was underwater and came up. And we saw it [in one of the story meetings]. And someone suggested, why not going back out at sunrise and do the same thing but end on the rising sun. So that’s what he did and that was the signature to our series,” explained reporter Colin Woodard.

Photographer Gregory Rec worked with reporter Colin Woodard to capture the essence of the story through still photos and video.

We had been doing lots of little pieces about one topic at a time, but I started thinking it was time to pull it all together

The series opens with a primer – a look at how things stand in the Gulf of Maine, who the players are, the types of species that live there From there each piece focuses on an aspect of the larger story: how puffins have been the “canary in the coalmine,” what’s happening with some cold-water species, how invasive species are making their way north, how some species may not survive, and what the state is doing – or not doing – to help.

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Genevieive McDonald replaces a bait bag in a lobster trap while fishing off the coast of Stonington. In 2012, McDonald saw dozens of longfin squid near Isle au Haut. The squid like warmer water and are rarely seen in the Gulf of Maine but there were numerous sightings of the squid during the “ocean heat wave” of 2012. ​ Photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Woodard, an award-winning reporter and author, has been covering oceans and environmental issues for decades. In the 1990s, he reported on ocean issues for The San Francisco Chronicle, The Christian Science Monitor, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. In 2000, he published the book “Ocean’s End.” Writing about oceans and environmental issues is nothing new to Woodard. And he became the driver of the ship when putting together the series.

Woodard says in the summer of 2014 he read that the Gulf of Maine, which stretches from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia, had warmed faster than almost anywhere else in the world.

“We had been doing lots of little pieces about one topic at a time, but I started thinking it was time to pull it all together,” Woodard recently explained.

It was all easier because of Colin. He’s written so much about this already.

“We’d do an acidification story one week, and maybe the next it was something about green crabs. Then we wrote about how lobsters were molting early and it was affecting lobster prices. And the puffins. And the sea grass,” said Steve Greenlee.

At about the same time Woodard was reading about the rising sea temps, so was Greenlee. “A light bulb went off. It was a passing mention about the temperature rising faster in the Gulf of Maine than anywhere else, and I knew we needed to do something bigger.”

Greenlee asked Woodard to start in spring 2015 looking at the topic and figuring out how they were going to do a series. They needed to know the key issues, how big this was going to be, how many parts.

“It was all easier because of Colin. He’s written so much about this already,” said Greenlee. “He’s a rare breed of old school investigative journalist blended with being an author who approaches topics with an academic sense.” So when Woodard would sit down at story meetings to discuss his ideas, there were some questions or suggestions, but Woodard was steering the boat.

“They let me be parliament and make the legislation. There may have been some vetoes along the way, but they trusted me to put forward the decisions,” explained Woodard.

In June, July, and August Woodard did the heavy reporting. He traveled from Portland to Veazie to New Brunswick, talking to as many people as possible along the way. Part of the issue he ran into was that no one, not even the scientists researching this, had ever put all of the information together in one place. “They had never assembled all of this, so that’s the other thing I was doing,” he said.

Woodard said he felt it was now part of his job to assemble all of these important pieces in one place.

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Marissa McMahan collects juvenile lobsters in Lowell’s Cove in Harpswell. While lobstering with her father off Georgetown in 2012, McMahan discovered black sea bass in the lobster traps, a fish normally found in warmer mid-Atlantic waters. ​ Photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Roger Collard unloads totes of shrimp from the hold of the Theresa Irene III after the boat tied up to the pier at Camp Ellis in Saco in this 2006 file photo.​ Photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“They let me be parliament and make the legislation. There may have been some vetoes along the way, but they trusted me to put forward the decisions,” explained Woodard.

In June, July, and August Woodard did the heavy reporting. He traveled from Portland to Veazie to New Brunswick, talking to as many people as possible along the way. Part of the issue he ran into was that no one, not even the scientists researching this, had ever put all of the information together in one place. “They had never assembled all of this, so that’s the other thing I was doing,” he said.

Woodard said he felt it was now part of his job to assemble all of these important pieces in one place.

And what he didn’t expect was to run into a governmental roadblock, but that’s precisely what happened in Canada when then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper prohibited government scientists from talking with reporters. Woodard put in multiple interview requests, and all were denied, leaving him to write a sidebar story about how the government was blocking his efforts to research this phenomenon further.

Since the series was published, Canadians elected a new Prime Minister who has a drastically different outlook on scientists talking with reporters, and out of that was born yet another article printed just this week.

But it wasn’t just Woodard’s reporting and vast knowledge of the topic that made these stories intriguing. It became more beautiful when combined with the gorgeous photos by chief photographer Gregory Rec. “Greg came on once the series started in June or July, and he knew who I was talking to and what the story was looking like,” said Woodard.

“Greg has been photographing up and down the Maine coast for years, and he loves photographing on the water, and he has plenty of sources, so it made sense for him to be on this project,” said Greenlee.

“It was by chance that he was out on a Gulf of Maine Research Institute boat when they came across a killer whale. The video in the series? That’s his. He was there because of his great relationship with those guys. And those guys had never seen a killer whale that far north, because this isn’t their native region,” Greenlee said.

Since the series was published, Canadians elected a new Prime Minister who has a drastically different outlook on scientists talking with reporters

Woodard and Rec didn’t travel together for the series, though. Woodard explained often he was traveling far – to Canada, to central Maine, to many places that if the interview didn’t pan out the way he though it might it could hit the cutting room floor and Rec’s time would have been wasted. So they traveled and worked separately but kept in touch throughout the project about what each had. (The lone exception was a trip to Eastern Egg Rock, off the coast of Bristol, Maine, where typically only researchers are allowed, and the two went together.)

Greenlee said one of the most difficult parts of putting this series together is that the digital and graphics teams had several other projects going on at the same time – including the massive special project, No Vacancy.

Woodard and Rec took a story that is difficult to tell in words as well as pictures and made it visually pleasing. Woodard says he will mark its success in several years when he’s able to look back and see whether they focused on the right issues.

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