Protecting Ocean Ecosystems

A Call for Protections

An olive cod swims through kelp at Cashes Ledge. Photo credit: Brian Skerry.

The following was originally published in National Fisherman.

The Gulf of Maine is warming fast — faster than almost any other ocean area in the world. To say this is alarm­ing is an understatement, and action is needed today to permanently protect large areas of the ocean, which scientists say is one of the best buffers against the disastrous effects of climate change.

To that end, a diverse group of ma­rine-oriented businesses, hundreds of marine scientists, aquaria, conservation organizations and members of the public are calling on the Obama administration to designate the Cashes Ledge Closed Area and the New England Coral Can­yons and Seamounts as the first Marine National Monuments in the Atlantic.

Conservation Law Foundation has worked for years to permanently protect the remarkable Cashes Ledge area. This biodiversity hotspot provides refuge for a stunning array of ocean wildlife — from cod to endangered right whales, bluefin tuna to Atlantic wolffish — and a rare lush kelp forest. The New England canyons and seamounts similarly shelter an incredible breadth of sea life, includ­ing spectacular ancient coral forma­tions. Public support is widespread and growing. In September, more than 600 people attended a sold-out event hosted by the New England Aquarium and National Geographic Soci­ety where scientists discussed why these places are unique natural treasures. More than 160,000 people have electronically petitioned the president for monument protection.

America has a long tradition of pro­tecting our remarkable natural heritage and biological bounty. In contrast to our public lands and the Pacific Ocean, there are no areas in the Atlantic that are fully protected as national monuments. But why monument protection?

Unlike fishery management closed areas or national marine sanctuaries, na­tional monument designation protects against all types of commercial extrac­tion that are harmful and can damage critical habitat: fishing, oil and gas explo­ration, sand and gravel mining, and more.

Scientists say large-scale marine habi­tat protection is necessary to increase ocean resiliency in the face of climate change. Undisturbed underwater “labo­ratories” in places with relatively pristine habitats, like the Cashes Ledge area and the canyons and seamounts area, will be key in studying how — and how well — we are managing these already changing ocean ecosystems. These irreplaceable habitats can only play that role when protected in their entirety.

Current protections by the New Eng­land Fishery Management Council are critical but not sufficient, as they are temporary, only limited to commercial fish species, and any coral protections are only discretionary. A monument des­ignation protects all sea life and makes that protection permanent. It would be managed by scientists and others with ecological expertise (including but not limited to fisheries expertise). Fishery management councils were not designed and are not in the business of protect­ing scientifically unique and ecologically critical areas in the ocean.

Permanent closure will also benefit collapsed fish populations like Atlantic cod, which would be able to rebuild and sustain themselves at healthy levels. Re­search is beginning to show that refuges could help struggling species like cod produce larger, older and significantly more productive females that could help recovery when their offspring eventually spill out to restock fishing in surrounding waters. The fishing industry is poised to benefit in the long term when commer­cially important fish are able to rebound.

Protecting the few unique marine places we have left is good for the fish­ermen and communities that rely on a healthy and abundant ocean for their livelihoods and is our obligation to fu­ture generations.

Download a PDF of the article here.


Comments

One Response to A Call for Protections

  • I M Pinkham says:

    Peter I agree with you on protecting cashes ledge from bottom trawlers but was horrified when i read in several conservation groups websites that cashes had thousands of lobster traps all over cashes, one group even said the traps were a big corporation that had 11 boats and didn’t have a care for the environment and tonight I reading that the thousands of traps is damaging the kelp on cashes and the conservation groups are using this to stop lobstering on cashes. I already contacted the diver that said there was thousands of traps on cashes who does do work for a well respected organization, the email he sent ended with “when u get to cashes you will see why it needs to be closed to all fishing” Only reason why Im writing this is to tell you that I agree to protect cashes from trawlers and to tell you that cashes doesn’t have thousands of traps on it and it doesn’t have thousands of old ghost traps on the bottom. I’m a lobstermen from Maine that lobsters cashes year round been there for 6 years lobstering and fish 500 traps in the area by law. That’s a far cry from thousands of traps.

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