Historic Approval of Northeast Ocean Plan a Testament to Our Region’s Strength

In a historic moment, the White House announced today the official approval of the landmark Northeast Ocean Plan.

This approval by the National Ocean Council sets the Northeast Ocean Plan in motion and into the implementation stage – cementing New England’s legacy as a national leader for protecting and managing our oceans.

The plan is a game changer as our region has committed, on every level, to be smarter about how we collectively use our ocean’s resources. Based on the most comprehensive database of scientific and ocean use information ever compiled for New England’s ocean, as well as intensive stakeholder input, the Northeast Ocean Plan will effectively enable the region to capitalize on all the ocean has to offer – food, clean renewable energy, transportation, recreation, and jobs – all while ensuring that the ocean we all depend upon is healthy and thriving.

Ultimately, through a commitment to science and data-backed decision making, inclusivity, and better collaboration, the new ocean plan will result in increased economic success, fewer conflicts on the water, preservation of New England’s iconic ocean-based industries, and a healthier ocean for all.

A Plan for New England

With climate change upon us, smart ocean planning is more important than ever. The Gulf of Maine is now woefully in the spotlight, its waters heating faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans. As conservation leaders for half a century, we at Conservation Law Foundation have witnessed profound changes in our ocean.

We’ll continue to invest in the implementation of the Northeast Ocean Plan, which includes a commitment from the state, federal and tribal members of the regional planning body to identify important ecological areas. We’ll work to ensure decision makers are aware of these areas and push for their protection in planning projects, which will help restore the ocean’s health and build its resiliency to climate change.

This is New England’s plan. Largely crafted by New Englanders, advocated for by New Englanders, and ultimately implemented by many who call this region home – New England’s values are embedded within this plan. No matter the challenges that face us, our region knows how to come together and make things happen – and with this strength, CLF will work to ensure the plan is implemented widely for the benefit of our coastal communities, marine life, businesses, and for future generations.

Read CLF’s official statement on the release of the Northeast Ocean Plan here.

Governor Baker: The People Have Spoken, and They Want a Marine National Monument

The people of New England, and especially Massachusetts, have spoken – and they want a Marine National Monument in the Atlantic.

More than 160,000 people have signed their name in support of a monument designation, including over 10,000 from Massachusetts alone. We’ve received public letters of support from coastal businesses, faith-based organizations, and aquaria. And more than 200 U.S. marine scientists, including the most prominent marine ecologists in the region, have stated that the Cashes Ledge Area and the New England Canyons and Seamounts hold special ecological value and need permanent protection as national monuments. There is no dispute about the scientific importance or vulnerability of these areas.

Our coalition said: Here’s the science; here’s what’s at stake; here are the risks to these incredible habitats. We asked the public to stand with us in support for permanent protection, and overwhelmingly, they have said – and keep saying – “yes.”

They showed up at an event at the New England Aquarium in the week before Labor Day (when they could have been doing many other things) to learn about these places and what makes them so important. They signed comment cards, and took home buttons and posters to share with colleagues and friends to spread the word. And then they showed up again, when NOAA held a town hall meeting for the express purpose of gathering public feedback. And NOAA is still accepting public comment. The Cashes Ledge Area has been studied for over ten years in a public forum. If that’s not public process, what is?

The Obama Administration should be lauded for seeking to take the steps necessary to protect critical ocean habitats from human threats – which include more than threats from fishing – and therefore require more comprehensive protection than a fishery management council has to offer. A monument is necessary to protect the health of our ocean, restore its natural productivity, and make it resilient to climate change impacts, already putting stress on iconic fish like Atlantic cod.

New Englanders are champions and leaders for the ocean, as evidenced by our commitment to drafting the first-in-the-nation regional ocean plan, due out next year. This plan will make great strides for managing the region’s ocean resources over the long term but it is not at all clear if and when this plan would consider permanent and full habitat protection of vitally important ecological areas like Cashes Ledge and the New England Canyons and Seamounts.

A marine monument designation is not an overreach of power, but rather exactly what the Antiquities Act was created to do. These areas are in federal waters and the President has critical stewardship obligations for those resources that transcend fisheries politics. Economically, scientifically, and morally, saving our ocean treasures makes sense. We hope you’ll come to agree with the thousands of people and businesses in Massachusetts who have already stood up for our future.

Fishery Management Council Spares Cashes Ledge But Puts Other Ocean Habitat At Risk

Cashes ledge, a spectacular underwater mountain range in the Gulf of Maine, has for now been spared by the New England Fishery Management Council, which met this week to vote on whether to open this biodiversity hotspot to the most destructive forms of commercial fishing. But, while the Cashes Ledge Closed Area survived the Council vote intact, that fate is not shared by other important ecological areas found within the Gulf of Maine.

In addition to maintaining current protections for Cashes Ledge, the Council voted to add a new area of ocean habitat in the Eastern Gulf of Maine. That’s the good news. The bad news, however, adds up to laundry list of poor decision making that puts the health of our ocean, fisheries, and fishing economy at risk, as the Council also voted to:

  • allow damaging trawls to invade an area of the Western Gulf of Maine that has been closed to commercial fishing for more than 20 years,
  • significantly reduce the size and scope of a new protected area in the Downeast Maine area,
  • permit surf clam dredges, the most damaging fishing gear, in a newly created Great South Channel “protected area,”
  • allow gear modification techniques to serve as habitat “protection” measures, even though those techniques have been panned by the Council’s own technical experts.

The Council also entertained a new proposal put forward by the scallop industry for a protected area for Georges Bank that will – unsurprisingly – permit scallop and clam dredging in a protected area that has been closed for more than 20 years.

CLF has been at the forefront of fighting to keep Cashes Ledge and other protected ocean habitat closed to most commercial fishing practices in order to restore depleted groundfish stocks, including the Atlantic cod population, which is currently at historic lows. During a 60-day comment period, CLF and other environmental organizations collected close to 160,000 comments from the public calling on the Council to keep Cashes Ledge closed to commercial fishing and to increase protected areas across New England waters.

While the initial outcome for Cashes is positive, the Council continues to play a dangerous shell game with our precious ocean resources, ignoring its own scientists’ advice and elevating minimal short-term gains for industry over long-term benefits for the resource (and, ultimately, the fishing community). The current vote is yet another example of one step forward and two steps back for the Council, as it once again spurned the kind of long-term protection and sustainability for New England’s precious marine resources that could lead to economic prosperity for our fishing community.

Fishery management councils across the United States have successfully balanced the protection of ocean habitat with the economic interests of our fishing communities. New England’s fishery council should be the nation’s leader in that effort, but instead they have a long history of making bad management decisions that are depleting our fish stocks and bankrupting our fishing industry.

Our oceans belong to the people and we cannot allow an industry-driven Council to take hostage of vital marine resources decisions. Of the nearly 160,000 people who weighed in on this issue, an overwhelming 96% of them want an increase in protected areas, not a decrease.

If you were among those thousands who weighed in, thank you. Your voice has and can make a difference in this fight. The reality is, even though Cashes has received a reprieve for now, the final vote on the Council’s risky proposal isn’t until June. CLF will continue to ensure that your voice is heard and work to turn back the tide on a legacy of poor management by the New England Fishery Management Council.

Redefining Open Space: The Case for Protecting Open Space in the Sea

Nestled on Massachusetts’ North Shore, Ipswich is an historic New England community with a vibrant town center, friendly people, and working farms.

What really strikes visitors to this small town, however, is its open space. A remarkable 47 percent of the town is protected. People here seem to share a common, almost innate understanding that their quality of life is intimately tied to their open space – and that they need green spaces to balance a landscape increasingly developed for housing and commerce.

The people of Ipswich are not alone – New England boasts 500 land trusts working to protect the places that make living in this corner of the country so special. Across the country, the number of active land trusts tops out at more than 1,700, which, together, have conserved 47 million acres of land. That number of protected acres only gets bigger when you add in state and national park systems and wildlife refuges.

So, when I think about the concept of open space in the ocean, I am confounded by how differently we treat our saltwater resources. There’s not even a term for open space at sea. I know, for many of us, the vast blue expanse of the ocean looks like nothing but “open space.” But beneath the waves is a landscape as diverse, breathtaking, and dramatic as any on land – a dynamic seascape of boulder reefs, hard and soft corals, luxuriant kelp forests, muddy basins, ever-changing sand plains, and beautiful canyons full of exotic marine life.

Yet only a fraction of our oceans – barely two percent – is permanently protected worldwide.

Surely in the same way that we bank away critical portions of our terrestrial landscape for its inherent value, we can protect equally vital seascapes so that our ocean can survive and thrive for generations to come. That protection should follow the same principles as on land, which we manage for multiple uses. We need appropriate places to develop and site clean renewable offshore wind energy, for example. And, we need fishing grounds to support our venerable fishing industry and the production of the delicious seafood for which our coastal regions are renowned.

But we also have to acknowledge that fishing, while important, is not a benign activity; few exploitative industries are. And some fishing gear – trawls and dredges, in particular – are more destructive than others. Our decisions about how to manage the ocean, then, must balance both realities. That’s why Conservation Law Foundation is pushing to protect some of New England’s most remarkable – and vulnerable – ocean open spaces before they are damaged beyond repair.

Cashes Ledge is one of those vulnerable places. Located in the Gulf of Maine about 80 miles from Portland, Maine, and Gloucester, Massachusetts, Cashes Ledge rivals any earthbound landscape in beauty, biodiversity, and grandeur. The steep ridges and deep basins along this 25-mile-long mountain range create ideal conditions for marine life as currents mix nutrient- and oxygen-rich water from the top of the water column to the seafloor far below. Home to the deepest and largest cold-water kelp forest along the Atlantic seaboard, Cashes Ledge provides an important source of food and a diverse habitat for fish, sharks, marine mammals, and an astounding array of invertebrates. This diversity also makes it a valuable open-sea laboratory for scientists studying ocean ecosystems and the impacts of climate change.

Marine life on Cashes Ledge. Photo credit: Brian Skerry
Marine life on Cashes Ledge. Photo credit: Brian Skerry

For the past 12 years Cashes Ledge and the area surrounding it have been closed to most commercial fishing – and it shows. The area is lush and productive, a refuge not only for threatened groundfish like Atlantic cod, but also for rare species such as Atlantic wolffish and North Atlantic right whales. As I write, however, federal fisheries managers are considering a proposal to re-open the whole area to the most harmful kinds of commercial fishing, which could devastate this prized seascape.

Cashes Ledge is one of those remarkable places that few people will ever get to experience for themselves – only the most skilled divers attempt to explore its depths. To help expose the underwater beauty and diversity of Cashes Ledge, Conservation Law Foundation has partnered with noted marine photojournalist Brian Skerry, a contributing photographer to National Geographic Magazine and a National Geographic Photography Fellow. During his long career, Brian has photographed oceanscapes around the world, documenting their beauty and their fragility for all of us to see. Now he’s come back home to his native New England waters, capturing through his expert lens Cashes Ledge’s rainforest-like kelp forest, expansive mussel beds, sea stars and sea anemones, red Atlantic cod and cunner, and so much more.

Brian knows that seeing is believing – and he shares with us a conviction that, by revealing the wonder of Cashes Ledge through his dramatic and mesmerizing photography, we can inspire people’s passion for its protection, a passion as strong as any stirred by our most beloved landscapes.

We can – we must – change the way we think about ocean open spaces, and move forward meaningful protection for our most vital seascapes, places like Cashes Ledge.

Priscilla Brooks is the Director of Ocean Conservation at Conservation Law Foundation where she works to restore and protect New England’s ocean wildlife and habitats.

Video: Take a 5-Minute Dive on Cashes Ledge

If only everyone could see and experience the wonder of Cashes Ledge for themselves, we know they would feel as passionate about protecting it as we do. That’s why we’re excited to share with you this new video, filmed with our partner, National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry, Brown University Biologist Jon Witman, and local fishermen. We hope you’ll agree that this video, which features stunning new footage by underwater videographer Evan Kovacs, brings Cashes Ledge to life in a whole new way.

Cashes Ledge is unlike anyplace you’ll find on land or sea – one of the most dynamic hotspots of biodiversity in New England and the entire North Atlantic. But it’s in danger. Cashes Ledge has been protected from the most harmful fishing practices for more than 10 years. But this amazing preserve for fish and ocean wildlife may be just a few months away from having its protected status revoked.

We need your help to make sure that doesn’t happen. You can make a difference for Cashes in just two easy steps:

First, if you haven’t already, please sign our petition to NOAA today, asking them to protect Cashes Ledge.

And second, share this video far and wide with your friends, colleagues, and networks, and ask them to sign our petition and support our work. Because we need many more passionate people like you to take action, today, to protect this remarkable marine refuge.

It’s going to take all of us raising our voices loudly and clearly to protect Cashes Ledge. Thank you for your commitment and for being part of the New England Ocean Odyssey community.

Why Not Go for a Swim? It’s Polar Bear Plunge Season!

Winter in New England is not for the faint of heart. Ice, snow, frigid cold temperatures and a biting wind  require residents of the region to steel themselves against sometimes ferocious weather. Shoveling sidewalks and driveways and trudging into the office through the wind tunnels created by the city skyscrapers can be a miserable experience.

For some us, though, the winter snow and freezing temperatures magically transforms our landscape — unlocking a winter wonderland of outdoor recreation. We can’t wait to head for the mountains to ski or slap on a pair of skates to glide, or more often, bump along  the frozen lakes and ponds. And there is nothing more exciting than flying down the backyard hills on sleds and saucers with your kids holding on for dear life.

But the holidays also bring out the most peculiar of New England winter traditions – the Polar Bear Plunge. In the coming week, tens of thousands of New Englanders will take to beaches across the region en masse on Christmas and New Years Day for an invigorating dip in the ocean. Why? Well, according to Bernaar MacFadden, the founder of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, which claims to be the oldest “winter bathing” organization in the United States, swimming in the ocean in the wintertime is “a boon to one’s stamina, virility and immunity.”

I suppose a plunge into 45 degrees Fahrenheit water (and that’s what the sea surface temperature currently is registering at the Jeffrey’s Ledge weather buoy in the Gulf of Maine), might have a way of making you feel alive, but the true health benefits of shocking your system are up for debate. Some doctors advise caution before taking a winter swim, as the rush of adrenaline caused by the coldwater plunge can cause hyperventilation and irregular heart rhythms.

But that doesn’t stop the South Boston’s L Street Brownies who have been jumping into the ocean off Carson Beach every New Year’s Day since 1904, after one member reportedly posed the simple question, “Why don’t we go for a swim?” Whatever the risk, communities up and down the New England coast will flock to the seaside, run and jump wildly in and out of the ocean and once again celebrate sea no matter what the season. Why not go for a swim? Happy holidays to all!

Image via Open Water Pedia

Celebrating World Oceans Day the New England Way

There has never been a better time to care about the ocean than now. The ocean provides us with so many things – half of the air we breathe, an amazing variety of things to eat, a place of beauty and refuge and sometimes fury. This year the New England coast line was pummeled by tropical storms and Northeasters, reminding us yet again that our glorious ocean is powerful, relentless and unforgiving. Despite our ingenuity and technical know-how, we live in a natural and changing environment and need to better plan and protect our ocean ourselves going forward.

We used to think that the ocean was so big, and life in it so abundant, that nothing we did could harm it or exhaust its resources. But now, because of us, the ocean is changing fast and in dramatic ways. It is getting warmer, more acidic, and ever more crowded – as we consider new uses like tidal and wind energy development in addition to our historic ones like fishing, shipping, sailing and other recreation. The fabric of New England’s ocean ecosystems is changing, too. Previously depleted populations of sharks and seals are on the rise, while other species like Atlantic cod and yellowtail flounder have plummeted. And there’s evidence that the changing ocean chemistry will profoundly affect the entire food chain, from tiny plankton on up.

The time to care is now. With climate change affecting our oceans in ways we are only beginning to understand, now is the time to restore the health of our ocean so that it can be as resilient as possible to the changes that are coming. Ocean conservation has been part of our work at CLF since the mid-1970s when we were a scrappy little organization on Beacon Hill fighting the federal government and the oil industry over oil and gas drilling on Georges Bank – New England’s most important fishing grounds. We won that case, then won it again and again as the oil industry kept knocking on New England’s door. Ocean conservation is part of our history and is embedded in our DNA, and we are still working hard to  protect our ocean and keep it thriving for future generations of New Englanders in many ways:




  • Celebrating our beautiful ocean – Our New England Ocean Odyssey campaign is all about showcasing the amazing, breathtaking, important, and often strange things that lie beneath our waves. We have one of the most productive, diverse ocean ecosystems on the planet right off our shores, and we hope that by bringing you the gorgeous photography of Brian Skerry and others, and engaging stories, you will be inspired to help us protect it.



We will continue to fight these battles for a healthy ocean so we have more to celebrate next World Oceans Day, and the one after that, and beyond. Please stay with us on our voyage and be part of a better ocean future in New England.

Happy Birthday to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary!

Above – An endangered North Atlantic right whale, among the most beloved residents of Stellwagen Bank, moves along the surface of the water. 

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the designation of the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary – New England’s first and thus far only National Marine Sanctuary and one of only 13 National Marine Sanctuaries nationwide. Named in honor of a long time Massachusetts member of Congress and in recognition of its outstanding ecological importance to New England’s ocean, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary lies just 25 miles off the coast of Boston and encompasses an area approximately 842 square miles in size. Stellwagen Bank itself was named after Henry S. Stellwagen, a Lieutenant in the US Navy who first surveyed and mapped the area and its surround waters in 1854.

Geologists believe that Stellwagen Bank was originally dry land, wandered by wooly mammoths and mastodons, prior to being sculpted and forced underwater 14,000 years ago by the last Ice Age glaciers. Today’s Stellwagen Bank is incredibly diverse – home to more than 575 species, including sponges, corals, starfish, lobster, sea scallops, and squid. There are also many groundfish species, such as Atlantic cod, yellowtail flounder, and Atlantic wolffish. Schools of bluefin tuna and elegant blue sharks cruise the middle depths in search of prey, while 30-foot basking sharks and prehistoric ocean sunfish ride the surface currents. Although increasingly rare, loggerhead and leatherback sea turtles still live here, protected by the Endangered Species Act.

But Stellwagen Bank is perhaps best known for its 19 species of marine mammals – including seals, harbor porpoises, Atlantic white-sided dolphins, and pilot, minke, finback, and humpback whales, the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale (pictured above), and the 100-foot blue whale – the world’s largest animal.


A map of Stellwagen Bank, including the original shipping lanes (here called “Existing TSS”) and the current shipping lanes (“Proposed TSS”), which were shifted after intensive whale surveys informed a better route.


Stellwagen’s close proximity to land and its tremendous resources have drawn intensive human activity and uses that pose significant challenges to the long-term health of this special place.  When Stellwagen Bank NMS was designated in 1992, a prohibition on oil and gas drilling and sand and graveling mining within the Sanctuary was imposed, but the designation established little in the way of new protections for its living marine resources.

Intensive commercial and recreational fishing takes place throughout the sanctuary for species such as cod, haddock, flounder, tuna, herring, and lobster. And although it is a National Marine Sanctuary, bottom trawling occurs throughout much of the area threatening seafloor habitats. Hundreds of large cargo ships cut through the middle of the Sanctuary throughout the year traveling along the shipping lanes into Boston, presenting a threat to surface feeding North Atlantic right whales that are prone to ship strikes. The Sanctuary is working to minimize this harm, and has done extensive work to understand where the whales are most likely to be in the Sanctuary, and has cooperated in altering the shipping lanes to be more protective.

Currently the Sanctuary is working to develop a much needed ecological research area that would allow managers to study the impacts of human activities on Stellwagen’s ecosystem and devise better protections for this special place.

This month, New England Ocean Odyssey is excited to celebrate Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary with spectacular photographs and stories of the work that the Sanctuary is doing to protect its precious resources.

Happy Birthday Stellwagen!