Protecting Ocean Ecosystems

Beyond the Data: Captivating Moments at Cashes Ledge

The R/V Tioga coastal research vessel operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Diver Robbie Lamb of the Witman Lab at Brown University recounts his experiences diving at the unique underwater mountain range. This post was originally featured on New England Ocean Odyssey.  

Our two weeks of diving, research, and filming on Cashes Ledge has come to an end. We have spent the last 14 days diving off of the R/V Tioga (via Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute), visiting sites throughout the Gulf of Maine, and making several dives per day to document marine life.

 

Our team of filmmakers, Brett Seymour, Luis Lamar, and Evan Kovacs, have shot incredible footage of the rich underwater communities to be found on the “Jewel of the Gulf of Maine.” We look forward to seeing their pictures and videos in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the Witman Lab (Jon Witman, Robbie Lamb, and Fiona Beltram) along with Elizabeth Kintzing of the University of New Hampshire are busy analyzing gigabytes of data on all aspects of benthic and fish communities.

The other day on one of our research dives on Cashes Ledge, I was swimming a 50-meter transect to survey fish underwater, and was stopped in my tracks when a school of several hundred pollack (Pollachius virens), each 1.5 to 3 feet long, started circling in the water column just above the canopy of the kelp forest and all around me. I sat there, simply revolving in the swaying fronds, allowing my body to be pushed gently back and forth with the current, watching this profusion of life unfold in front of me. For a minute I sat there, engrossed, completely oblivious to the time-sensitive task I needed to accomplish.

Wildlife filmmaker Luis Lamar calls these “moments;” those brief lapses where time stands still and the natural beauty of what’s in front of you mesmerizes and captivates you. All other sensory input gets blocked out, your mind goes still, and suddenly you realize you’ve been holding your breath. His work revolves around capturing those moments on film; I’m tasked with converting what I see into data we can use for our analyses and predictions. But every so often, we look up from our work underwater and are confronted with one of these scenes that pushes every other thought to the periphery.

This is the power of the marine life that abounds at Cashes Ledge. It can overwhelm even a scientist whose job it is to quantify and assess this unique underwater habitat. And the numbers speak for themselves: cod, pollack, and cunner abundances far surpassing anything seen elsewhere in the southern gulf of Maine, kelp forests 15 feet high, harboring an unparalleled richness of marine life. The importance of conservation here for both the local persistence of the marine community and for the replenishment of degraded habitats and fisheries throughout the region cannot be overstated.

Cashes_Dive_TeamBut these moments, where the scientific pursuit of reducing the natural world to numbers gives way to pure fascination and enjoyment of wild beauty, remind us of a fundamental need for places like Cashes Ledge to be preserved. These are bastions of the healthy, productive, resilient ecosystems that once dominated the increasingly anthropogenic landscape around the world. It is our duty to conserve this legacy for future generations; to think not just of supplying the material demands of the present, but rather the persistence of a marine wilderness that invokes a wilder, pristine era. I work to ensure that we as a country and a community can take pride in the richness of life within our seas. I work for the protection of Cashes Ledge because marine wildlife such as this has the intrinsic right to exist, and we have the privilege to enjoy it.

Robbie Lamb is a PhD student and a diver with the Witman Lab at Brown University.


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