Dive in on Cashes Ledge 3.0!

We are excited to announce that we have embarked upon a dive expedition this week, exploring the crown jewel of New England’s ocean – Cashes Ledge! We can’t wait to report to you from one of our most treasured special places, accompanied by our friend and partner, Brian Skerry, and Cashes Ledge expert scientist Dr. Jon Witman.

Unlike in years past, our research vessel, provided and operated by the Waitt Foundation, will take the 100-mile trip out to Cashes Ledge from Portsmouth, NH, and will remain at sea through May 30. During this time period, our talented team of scientists, photojournalists, and cinematographers will take full advantage of every opportunity to explore and document this place. Additionally, I will be highlighting the expedition live from the boat via social media! Be sure to follow Conservation Law Foundation and New England Ocean Odyssey on Facebook and Twitter to receive live updates.

On previous expeditions, National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry has captured breathtaking images of the kelp forest and marine wildlife at Cashes Ledge, and we are on the edge of our seats to see what critters he will come in contact with this time.

We are even more excited to share the expedition with Conservation Law Foundation and New England Ocean Odyssey followers, so that you can dive in with us to see the beauty of Cashes Ledge as well!

About Cashes Ledge

Cashes Ledge is an underwater mountain range in the heart of the Gulf of Maine. Its tallest peak, Ammen Rock, rises to within 40 feet of the surface. The strong currents and internal waves along the ledge mix nutrient- and oxygen-rich water producing a biodiversity hotspot right in New England’s backyard. Atop the ledge you’ll find the deepest and largest cold water kelp forest along the Atlantic seaboard. The unique ecological conditions found at Cashes Ledge draw in a rich diversity of marine species ranging from bottom-dwelling sea stars, sea anemones, and purple sponges to fish like cod, wolfish, and bluefin tuna to endangered North Atlantic right whales.

Campaign to Protect New England’s Ocean Treasures

Cashes Ledge is a truly unique area in New England’s ocean. It’s a refuge habitat for some of our most valuable and iconic species; it’s an underwater laboratory that scientists can use to better understand the effects of climate change; and it’s greatly vulnerable to human and ecological threats. For these reasons, Cashes Ledge deserves to be permanently protected as a Marine National Monument. In addition to following our dive expedition, be sure to follow our campaign to Protect New England’s Ocean Treasures.

Note: As always, trips to Cashes Ledge are weather dependent. We’ll be updating frequently, so be sure to check back in often!

The Wonder Down Under

The January/February 2016 issue of Brown University’s Alumni Magazine includes a feature of Cashes Ledge and Dr. Jon Witman, who is a professor of biology at the university and a Cashes Ledge expert. Having dived at Cashes Ledge for more than 30 years, Witman has seen the underwater mountain range evolve from a bountiful ecological environment to a still-productive but threatened habitat. Below is an excerpt from the article by Louise Sloan. Read the full version here

It’s not exactly a trip to the Statue of Liberty or Muir Woods. To get to Cashes Ledge, part of a proposed national monument in the Atlantic Ocean’s Gulf of Maine, you have to get in a boat and head to a spot about eighty miles east of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. After the four-hour trip, you drop an anchor near Ammen Rock, the tallest pinnacle in Cashes Ledge, a twenty-five-mile-long underwater mountain chain. Ammen Rock rises from the sea floor 720 feet below to within thirty feet of the water’s surface. Once there, divers set up a buoy marking the spot, the only clue to Cashes’s underwater marvels. Then they jump into forty-degree water that’s moving at a speed of two to three knots—about as fast as a class II rapids—and “swim like hell for the buoy,” says Professor of Biology Jon D. Witman, who has been conducting research at Cashes Ledge for more than thirty years.

As you pull yourself hand-over-hand down the buoy rope, Witman says, you slowly make out what looks like the ocean floor. But, as you get closer, you realize it’s moving. What you’re looking at is the canopy of an undersea jungle, a forest of kelp exponentially thicker than any you’ll find elsewhere in the coastal Gulf of Maine. Because of the distance between Cashes Ledge and the coast, where the water is clouded by runoff and other pollutants, sunlight penetrates deeply into the clear, cold water. As a result, the kelp grows as far down as 100 feet, and it grown unusually tall—up to fifteen feet.

. . .

Ten years ago, when the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) asked Witman, who teaches Brown undergrads the basics of ecology, to recommend an ocean area to protect, Cashes was the obvious answer. Witman describes it as a “Disneyland of biodiversity” containing every kind of ocean bottom habitat, all in a concentrated space. Combined with the food pump provided by the waves, this dense habitat contains a rare proliferation of sea creatures representing an unusual variety of species. The complexity helps create more ecosystem stability and probably greater resilience to withstand such threats as climate change. With this range of creatures filtering water, removing carbon, producing oxygen, and providing all the other “ecosystem services” that the fish we eat depend on, Witman says, Cashes is a key to the health and productivity of the entire Gulf of Maine, including areas where commercial fishermen harvest cod.

Read the full article

Celebrating World Oceans Day

On the occasion of World Oceans Day, it is worth reminding ourselves about how utterly dependent we are on the ocean – for the fish and shellfish that grace our dinner tables, for our summer recreation – on, in, and alongside our ocean – for the tremendous untapped renewable resources of the wind, waves and tides, and for transportation of people and goods. Oh yes, and the air – up to 70% of the oxygen we breathe is produced by the plankton in the ocean. That’s more than from all the world’s rain forests combined. The ocean absorbs around half  of our carbon dioxide emissions and over 90% of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases. The ocean covers 70% of our planet and regulates the earth’s climate. Unfortunately the ocean is facing a host of troubles from climate change and acidification caused by all that carbon dioxide absorption, not to mention overfishing, seafloor habitat destruction and pollution – we need to be better stewards of this incredible resource.

As I walked on Crane Beach last weekend thinking about all of this, an early summer Northeaster whipped the ocean into a froth and unusually high tides threw up a wrack line of seaweed reaching as far as the wind sculpted sand dunes – leaving just a sliver of a beach. I was reminded that the ocean truly is the master and commander, and once again I felt humbled by the sea’s strength and beauty.  I was also a little frustrated by it. Why? Brian Skerry, weather permitting, will go on his first ever dive to one of New England’s most special places – Cashes Ledge –  this Saturday and Sunday.

Cashes Ledge, located 80 miles northeast of Gloucester, Massachusetts, is a 25-mile long underwater mountain chain that hosts one of the most unique, dynamic and ecologically productive areas in the Gulf of Maine. The highest peak, Ammen Rock, rises steeply off the ocean floor from 460 feet below to within 40 feet of the ocean’s surface.  There is an unbelievable diversity of ocean wildlife in this special place: North Atlantic right whales (like the breaching one shown above), blue sharks, bluefin tuna, herring, cod, Atlantic wolffish, sea anemones, brittle stars, brilliantly colored sea sponges, and the deepest kelp forest in the Gulf of Maine. But most of us have never seen this underwater jewel and probably never will. Unless, that is, someone goes diving and brings back spectacular photographs.

Brian’s planned dive on Cashes is just one of the many that he will be doing as part of the New England Ocean Odyssey – our 5 year partnership to bring to light the magnificent beauty that lies beneath the surface of New England’s waves. Despite all that we know about the ocean and its role in our lives, it still holds tremendous mystery. And I am happy for some mystery in these days of ceaseless information flow coming over our personal transoms 24/7 through our computers and smart phones. There is still so much we don’t know about the ocean and so much we can’t see. So gazing out to sea on that cold windy day, I wondered about what lies beneath the surface of those wild waves. My curiosity will soon be bated – at least for one special place in the Gulf of Maine.

With any luck Brian will show us just what a magnificent place Cashes Ledge is. I say with any luck, because, well, the weather has been challenging as of late. I have been electronically tethered to the Cashes Ledge weather buoy – a remarkable device that sends hourly reports on the wind, waves, water and air temperature, atmospheric pressure – hoping it brings us good news!

At the height of this week’s Northeaster sustained wind speeds at the buoy reached 25 knots with gusts up to 35 knots. And the waves reached nearly 14 feet.  Not good for diving! But the weather seems to be moderating and we are hopeful that Brian and his dive crew will make it out to Cashes this weekend. If not this weekend, he’ll get out on another.  And I can’t wait to share his photographs with you! So today, on World Oceans Day, make sure you take the opportunity to thank our oceans for the mystery they still hold and for all that they do for each of us.