New England is a region full of remarkable marine landscapes. An area like Cashes Ledge speaks to the immense beauty and diversity found in our local ocean, but it is not the only one.
Approximately 150 miles off the coast of southern New England, where the continental shelf drops off into the ocean abyss, liesa chain of undersea canyons and nearby seamounts that are home to an incredible richness of marine life. The canyons plunge thousands of feet deep, some deeper than the Grand Canyon, and the seamounts rise as high as 7,000 feet above the seafloor, higher than any mountain east of the Rockies.
Much like Cashes Ledge, these habitats give rise to an elaborate underwater world of marine species. Communities of brilliant cold-water corals line the walls of the canyons and seamounts supporting a diverse deep-sea ecosystem and providing refuge for abundant fish and invertebrate species. Nearly 1,000 species have been identified in the New England Canyon and Seamount region, and researchers are discovering more with every expedition.
The nutrient rich cold water brings an abundance of plankton, squid, and forage fish, such as mackerel, This in turn attracts schools of tuna, sharks, seabirds, and marine mammals, such as endangered sperm whales and North Atlantic right whales – both rare, iconic species of the region.
The depth and ruggedness of the region have naturally protected the New England Canyons and Seamounts from human disturbance thus far, but this may not always be the case. This region is particularly vulnerable to fishing and offshore development. One sweep of a bottom trawl would have devastating effects for the fragile deep-sea community, and future any development in the region, such as drilling or mining, would pose great risk to marine mammals and fish.
Scientists have also suggested that deep-sea coral communities are among the most vulnerable to ocean warming and ocean acidification. Maintaining the health of the canyons and seamounts will be imperative in the fight against climate change.
The New England Canyons and Seamounts region is another special place that deserves protection.
Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program.