John Kerry, bowhead whales, and Cashes Ledge

 

Two items caught my eye when I was skimming through the Boston Globe recently and, while neither had anything to do with Cashes Ledge, it was the first place that came to mind when I read the stories.

  1. John Kerry is convening a meeting of leaders from around the world this June to discuss global ocean health and climate change – topics that have long been a “personal passion but also the source of political frustration” of our Secretary of State. (Tell me about it!)
  2. A bowhead whale was spotted for the second time in 3 years off the coast of Cape Cod. This is a thousand mile detour south for the polar-dwelling whale.

 

Kerry may be thinking globally, but this bowhead whale is acting locally (welcome to the neighborhood!). Bowhead whales are an Arctic species, but even the northern water is getting warmer. Many Atlantic species from south of Cape Cod are moving north and offshore to deeper water, presumably where the cooler temperatures are more to their liking. But what is an Arctic animal to do when things heat up? Why is this one going south? Is it following food, or just confused by the changing temperature in its home waters?  Is the baseline shifting in New England’s waters?

The effects of climate change are not likely to be simple and predictable. Some, like warming and acidifying ocean water, can be measured and tracked and make reasonable sense. But others, like where animals will go, how their reproduction will change, and what these changes will do to the ecosystems that contain them, are mysteries we are only beginning to examine.

In the face of all this unpredictability and change, it is essential that we leave nature some space to catch up – that we set aside some especially productive areas so our ocean ecosystems have a chance to regenerate, and to find a new balance with some of the old players – the cod, the whales, the sharks, turtles, flounder, anemones, plankton and other full- and part-time residents of New England’s ocean.

You may be wondering why we keep talking about Cashes Ledge. The reason is simple – it is one of the most thriving places in our waters right now. Fish breed and shelter there, where the currents make just the right mix for a rich brew of plankton and kelp to fuel this complicated and lush wilderness .

Protecting it is simple, too. Simple, but not easy.

Which is why we will also keep asking for your help until we can ensure permanent protection of this special place. How can we expect our ocean to keep thriving if we don’t give it the space to do so?

Please join us now to protect Cashes Ledge. If you’ve already signed the petition, consider making a gift to help CLF win this fight for ocean health, so that generations to come can experience the abundance that we once took for granted in New England’s ocean.

A charming nightmare? With the lined sea anemone perspective matters.

Look at this tiny wonderland of delicate, star-shaped, fair-haired anemones – benignly filtering food from the water and setting a lovely ocean ambiance. They could be little whisks that a mermaid might use to make a soufflé. Peaceful, right? Wrong. These dudes are remorseless, parasitic death-bringers who drill into their hosts and eat all their food. Which makes me love them a lot, really.

These lined sea anemones (Edwardsiella lineata) spend part of their lives anchored to the bottom of the ocean, doing what most anemones do, sitting around and eating what the current brings them. Before that, however, when they are but wee larvae, they go on a search-and-destroy rampage of their favorite host, a ctenophore known as the sea walnut, or warty comb jelly. We have lots of ctenophores in New England – you can see them in action in this short video by Alex Shure. Ctenophores may seem pretty hardy in this big swarm, but they are no match for the larval lined sea anemone.

 

Jelly Attack! from Green Diver on Vimeo.

It’s not just what this tiny assassin does, it’s how. Mayhem is a polite word for it. As Casey Diederich, my favorite marine biologist for fact-checking blogs about demented goings-on in the ocean, points out:

“The parasitic larva kind of hangs out in/near the pharynx, part of the digestive cavity of the ctenophore, to steal its food. This means that it must have some way to evade digestion by the ctenophore. If you could evade digestion, why not just enter through the ctenophores mouth? Apparently, the parasitic larva burrows through the outside of the ctenophore, then migrates through the ctenophore’s mesoglea (the “jelly” found in  jellyfish, ctenophores, and other kinds of marine invertebrates), and canal system until it gets to the ctenophore’s gut/pharynx. WHAT??? Nature is a crazy motha.”

And, yes, “crazy motha” is a technical marine biology term.

This is probably not much fun for the ctenophore, which can play the unwilling host to several of these baby anemones at a time, but it’s not all bad news, depending on your perspective.

First of all, the parasitic infection prevents the comb jelly from thriving, and thus reduces its population over time. Ctenophores eat zooplankton, including tiny juvenile fish, like cod and flounder. So it’s possible that the parasitic action of the anemone is helping more of these little fish not get eaten and make it to adulthood. More food for us! In some places over half the local comb jellies are infected with the parasitic anemone.

Secondly – in the northeastern Atlantic, off the coast of Europe, these comb jellies are invasive, and really taking a toll on the native wildlife, so the lined anemones might be preventing even worse devastation to the fisheries in that neck of the ocean.

So, the anemones are the good guys? Well, hold on. The larval form of the lined anemone has been implicated as one of the animals that can cause the annoying “sea-bather’s eruption” – an itchy rash you get sometimes after you swim in the ocean. Also, given how successful they are at life in general, there is concern that the lined anemones themselves might become an invasive nuisance in the northeastern Atlantic.

I guess there are no easy conclusions to draw here. Still, I think it’s safe to say that if these types of animals had blood, the lined anemone’s would be cold. One cold-blooded, crazy motha.

Brian Skerry Joins Us at the Boston Sea Rovers’ Dive Show and You Should Too!

We are so excited to be at the Boston Sea Rovers’ dive show again this year as an exhibitor, and are thrilled to announce that we will be hosting a panel discussion on Saturday, March 8th with world-renowned underwater photographer and Sea Rover Brian Skerry, eminent marine scientist and Professor of Biology at Boston University Les Kaufman, and Conservation Law Foundation’s VP and Ocean Program Director Priscilla Brooks!

Details:

  • The Boston Sea Rovers’ show is March 7th – 9th at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Danvers, MA. All the information you need to register and attend is on the Sea Rovers’ website.
  • Our presentation and panel discussion will be on Saturday, March 8th at 2 pm. The location within the hotel will be announced at the day of the presentation.

 

Brian Skerry will be showing his awe-inspiring photographs of Cashes Ledge – a New England undersea treasure in need of protection. Skerry and CLF are working to document and protect this special place. Come hear why Skerry says diving on Cashes Ledge is every bit as thrilling, surprising, and beautiful as anywhere else he’s been. He will give a short talk, featuring his original photography, about what he’s seen in the kelp forest on Cashes Ledge and why he is motivated to help keep it thriving. After the talk, there will be a panel discussion with Skerry, Witman, and Brooks.

We will also have a booth in the exhibit hall where you can come by and chat, learn more about Cashes Ledge, and help us with our work to protect this special place. We hope to see you there!

Originally published on February 6th.

Untangling our Ocean with Regional Ocean Planning

Quick – who is in charge of the ocean? Good luck answering that; ocean resources are currently managed by more than 20 federal agencies and administered through a web of more than 140 different and often conflicting laws and regulations. This results in such problems as:

  • Poor communication and coordination about ocean use decisions;
  • Slow, reactive management and decisions that drag on unnecessarily to delay or prevent good projects from moving forward;
  • Exclusion from the process – not all ocean users feel like they have a say in decisions;
  • Difficulty sharing information about uses – it’s hard to make sound decisions without having all the facts in one place.

 

Check out the short video above – our concerned octopus has a great idea for helping to change this: regional ocean planning.

Happily, New England is leading the charge in regional ocean planning, a process that brings together all ocean users – from fishermen to whale watchers, from beachgoers to renewable energy developers, to help us figure out how to share the ocean sustainably and maintain the benefits these resources provide for us all.

To learn more please visit Conservation Law Foundation’s regional ocean planning page, where we have podcasts, fact sheets, and updates on New England’s very active ocean planning process.

 

Wishing you a Fin-tastic 2014!

Thank you so much for joining us on our New England Ocean Odyssey. We hope you stick around for another year of inspiring photography, heartfelt ocean conservation stories, and good clean shark fun! Happy New Year!

Thanks to Michel Labrecque for this photo contest winning blue shark image – it was reallly fun to dress up.

A Boatful of Thankful – Mantis shrimp, Greenland Sharks, and Kids who Love the Ocean

As we approach our national day of gratitude and binge eating, I wanted to say a big heartfelt “thank you” to my muses, the ocean and the people who geek out on it. Here, in no particular order, are just some of the things in and around the sea that I am truly thankful for, and that make the ocean beat the most interesting one on the planet.

 

  • Mantis shrimp: “One of the most creatively violent animals on the planet.” If you haven’t been introduced to these little guys, or to The Oatmeal cartoon about them - now is the time.

 

  • Greenland sharks or, as they are affectionately known, “Canada’s crocodile.” Slow, small-brained, and often blind from eyeball parasites – they still manage to eat large, fast mammals. In fact, one of them took Greenland sharking to a new level recently by taking on a huge hunk of moose meat in Newfoundland. It did not go well, but fortunately some folks were there to help the shark out of its jam when the moose got stuck.  So, I’m thankful for Greenland sharks and for Newfoundlanders cause DANG that is a uniquely Canadian and impressive feat – yanking a huge hunk of moose hide out of a beached shark. A tip of the hat to you all.

 

  • Squid, cuttlefish, octopi – masters of camouflage and the creatures that make me ponder what evolution has in store for humans. If these guys figure out how to take to land I’m not sure we stand much of a chance. I know other people are worried too – because our SciFi aliens often resemble cephalopods.

 

 

 

  • Cashes Ledge. There is a place in New England that looks like a NorCal giant kelp forest, full of all the best kinds of things in the sea (including wolffish). Help us protect it!

 

  • Surfing. If you surf, you know. If you don’t, I can’t explain it without sounding like a total, well, like this guy. Just go try it. And, while we’re on the subject of surfing:

 

  • Great white sharks. They keep us on our toes. (Literally – I would rather be riding a wave then dangling my shark-bait feet in the water off my board). They also inspire awe and wonder, and really funny memes.

 

 

  • My family. They let me tell all these fantastic tales around the dinner table, help me pull out the juiciest details, and give me ideas for stories I never thought of. My kids can now beat most grownups at “ocean trivia.” Proud mom.

 

 

Mahalo to you all!

Fact: Healthy Oceans are Better for Divers

Yes, I admit it – I’m not a diver. But I am a surfer, and that makes me a stakeholder in healthy oceans, too. There is a big conservation ethic among surfers, because, in the words of one of the surfiest brands:  “Don’t destroy what you came to enjoy.”

Billions of dollars and millions of jobs are created each year by the use and enjoyment of America’s oceans and coasts.  In fact, in 2010 alone, ocean-related tourism and recreation supported more than 1.9 million jobs, and contributed almost $90 billion to the nation’s GDP. At the same time, our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes ecosystems face significant challenges to their health and their ability to provide the benefits, goods and services that we all want and rely upon.

These problems may come in the form of harmful “red tide” algae blooms which cause beach closures and damage shellfish farms in Massachusetts, expanding “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico caused by nutrient pollution runoff going into the Mississippi River, or the need for better science-based information to repair storm damage to cities and towns and to protect the public in advance of the next monster winter storm.

Being able to solve these ocean and coastal management challenges is difficult for federal and state agencies to do with the tools and resources they currently have, yet as our nation grows more along our coasts and demands more from our oceans these current management challenges are only going to become more difficult to solve.

Thankfully, we have the National Ocean Policy to help coordinate the work of our federal agencies and involve states and all stakeholders — including the public — to work together to help address some of the biggest challenges facing our oceans, and coasts.

But the best initiative the US has ever developed to promote ocean health and the importance of access for all current and future recreational users is under fire right now, and needs your voice of support!

Congress is working to pass the already problematic Water Resources Development Act and one harmful rider to that bill would eliminate the involvement of the US Army Corps of Engineers in any coastal planning, stakeholder engagement or other work that relates to the National Ocean Policy. The WRDA bill has passed the House and Senate and is in conference committee negotiations now.

Since the National Ocean Policy is implemented through current, existing laws and programs – this rider could disallow any involvement by US Army Corps in a range of issues and coastal projects that fall under their regular order of business.

Worse, some of our fellow ocean users have illogically come out in support of this harmful rider. Now is the time for responsible members of the dive community to stand up and ensure ocean health is recognized and supported.

But, check it out, there is one good idea being considered in this conference that needs our support – the establishment of a National Endowment for the Oceans (NEO) to improve ocean health and support ocean jobs and wildlife.

So consider emailing or calling your representatives and telling them “I support the Senate-passed National Endowment for the Oceans in the WRDA bill, which would help improve ocean health and maximize the economic benefits to our nation. I support the full implementation of the National Ocean Policy and oppose the House-passed Flores rider, which would place damaging restrictions on the use of common-sense ocean management tools like ocean planning and ecosystem-based management found in our National Ocean Policy.”

Cut, paste, or dial, and make a difference.

Live Fast, Die Young, Shift North – Longfin Squid (Cool Fish, Hot Water Part II)

This is Part II in our “Cool Fish, Hot Water” series. I know what you’re thinking, squid aren’t fish, but we weren’t sure we had enough fodder for a “Cool Cephalopod, Hot Water” series, so may the squid forgive us, but today they are fish. -Ed.

Things are heating up in New England’s ocean. Last month Leah Fine posted an outstanding piece on a warming trend in the Gulf of Maine, and the new faces we are starting to see off our coasts as a result. I can make no better introduction to the topic than Leah has already done, so I’m just going to dive right in and talk about another of the newcomers we’ve recently welcomed. Or, more correctly, an occasional visitor that seems to be making itself at home lately.

Longfin squid are no strangers to Atlantic waters, but they usually congregate from southern Georges Bank down to Cape Hatteras. Migrating seasonally, longfin squid spend the colder months offshore along the edge of the continental shelf, and come inshore in the spring as the water warms up, starting in the southern end of their range and proceeding north along the coast to Cape Cod.

But, according to CLF’s Peter Shelley, “Squid have been everywhere on the north shore of Massachusetts these past two summers. People were camped out on Marblehead’s public docks all night, it seemed, removing buckets and buckets of squid every day. Even I could catch them… and they were delicious.”

They are pretty tasty – if you enjoy calamari you’ve probably eaten them yourself. But Peter was surprised to see so many of them lately. “I have never seen them in such swarms before in all my years on the waters here,” he said recently. Peter’s location on the north shore of Massachusetts puts him in a front row seat for observing a range extension of commercially viable concentrations of longfin squid.

He’s not the only one who’s noticing the change. The Gulf of Maine Research Institute has listed longfin squid as an “emerging fishery” of Mid-Atlantic “stocks on the move.” According to their recent report on the topic, “centers of population for butterfish, longfin squid, summer flounder, and black sea bass have been steadily moving north since the 1990s.” They predict that the changes we are seeing in our ocean right now will have “significant effects on fisheries worldwide.” One species moving around a little bit may not seem like a big deal, but when you put that species in its ecosystem context, you can understand why scientists, fishermen, and regulators are getting worried.

Longfin squid have fleeting lives – their entire population is estimated to turn over very six months – but they are an important prey species for some of our commercial and recreational fishing favorites, like striped bass, bluefish, cod, haddock, and flounder. In turn, they rely on a diverse buffet themselves for food. When small they eat plankton, and graduate to crustaceans and small fish like mackerel, herring, and anchovies as they get bigger (is anyone else getting hungry?). They have also been known to eat each other, the little cannibals. In short — they are an important strand of the complex web of life in our ocean.

Nature changes and animals move around all the time, so any one species turning up in an unusual place or in unusual numbers doesn’t necessarily mean a big shift is happening, but the squid are just one of so many species on the go right now, that it’s hard not to worry things are really changing fast in our ocean. It will be challenging to keep up with the changes from commercial, regulatory, and conservation standpoints – but I think we’d all better give it our best shot. Keep checking back over the next few weeks and we’ll update you on more of our newest arrivals in New England’s ocean.