National Geographic: Brian Skerry Takes First Underwater Photo of a U.S. President

Our partner for the ocean, National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry, took the first photograph of a U.S. president underwater when President Obama visited Midway Atoll last summer after announcing the expansion of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Weeks later, the president announced the first marine monument in the Atlantic and cemented his legacy as the “ocean president.”

In an interview with National Geographic, here’s what Brian has to say about the increased attention now being paid to ocean conservation:

“In my own career there’s been this evolution. I began just wanting to make beautiful pictures of things that interested me. Animals I thought were cool, places I was interested in traveling to. But over time, I’ve seen this steady degradation occurring in our oceans, things that aren’t evident to most people. As a journalist I have a sense of responsibility and a sense of urgency to tell those stories . . . It’s very satisfying for me, having spent most of my life out there in the ocean, finally seeing these issues resonating at the highest levels among people who can really do something about it and make a difference. I just hope it’s not a one-off. I hope we continue.” Read the full interview here.

To hear more from Brian, mark your calendars for the premiere of Sea of Hope: America’s Underwater Treasures – featuring Cashes Ledge – airing Sunday, January 15 at 7 p.m. EST on National Geographic Channel.

Say “Thank You” to President Obama for the First Marine Monument in the Atlantic

President Obama made history last week, announcing the designation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument – the first in the U.S. Atlantic!

Click here to send a “Thank You” message to President Obama for taking action for our oceans.

The announcement came during the third annual Our Ocean Conference, hosted by the U.S. Department of State, where world leaders came together to announce commitments (in money or action) to help address the critical issues facing the ocean – and all of us who rely on it.

This is a historic moment for our ocean, which is facing enormous pressures from climate change, overfishing, and increasing industrialization. The monument in New England will permanently protect four seamounts and three undersea canyons from human threats, allowing centuries-old coral formations and rare marine species to thrive. Scientists believe large, fully-protected marine areas are also more resilient to negative impacts from climate change, which will be paramount in the coming years as we aim to address this problem on a global and local level.

Check out our Seamounts Species Spotlight series to learn more about some of the critters found in these areas. And take a moment to “Like” our Facebook page, where we – along with other regional and national organizations – will continue to share information and build support for the permanent protection of additional critical ocean areas.

Senator Blumenthal Calls on President Obama to Establish Marine National Monument in New England

On Aug. 4, Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut, with the support of the state’s entire congressional delegation, called on President Obama to designate the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts as a Marine National Monument, leading our region in a critical step toward the permanent protection of this undersea treasure!

We applaud Senator Blumenthal for considering the enormous body of scientific research and public support that exists for this initiative and for his leadership in advancing this important work for the people of Connecticut, the people of New England, the people of the United States, and the people of the world. In this critical time, when we are not only demanding more of our ocean resources but also experiencing the impacts of climate change, it is imperative that we protect important areas to ensure that our ocean ecosystem – which includes its wildlife and habitats – is healthy and thriving, now and into the future.

The New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts, a region 150 miles off of Cape Cod, includes a series of canyons – some deeper than the Grand Canyon – and seamounts, extinct volcanoes rising thousands of feet from the seafloor. The areas house a high diversity of marine species, some of which are rare or only recently discovered. Thousand-year-old coral communities line the deep-sea canyon walls, and the unique geographical formations provide habitats for marine life to thrive. In the water column above, rich food sources from plankton to forage fish support whales, sharks, sea turtle, seabirds, and more.

Protecting the Canyons and Seamounts would provide refuge to a myriad of species, conserve a vital and productive ecosystem, and help fuel many parts of New England’s economy. Designating the Canyons and Seamounts as a Marine National Monument is an essential step in building a healthy future for our region’s ocean ecosystems.

Since last fall, more than 300,000 signatures in support of permanently protecting these incredible ocean treasures have been collected and delivered to the White House. It’s clear that the people want President Obama to conserve ocean areas just as we’ve protected special land areas in America for more than 110 years.

We are asking President Obama to extend his legacy of conservation to the Atlantic Ocean, where no monuments exist.

We hope that President Obama moves swiftly to make this proposal a reality; and we will continue to call on him and future administrations to build upon this progress by designating one of New England’s biodiversity hotspots, Cashes Ledge, as a Marine National Monument.

Read the full letter from the Connecticut delegation to President Obama here, and more reactions from our coalition here.

Then,  to say “thank you” for his leadership!

Excerpt: The Potential of the Gulf of Maine

The following is an excerpt from a letter from the chairman of the board for Diversified Communications, Daniel Hildreth. Diversified Communications owns National Fisherman Magazine and other publications. The letter was published in the August 2016 issue of National Fisherman. 

Over the past year, Cashes Ledge and several canyons and seamounts on or near the southern edge of Georges Bank have been proposed as national monuments. We won’t know the outcome for sure until January 2017, but the question remains: Is there a need for a few carefully selected areas in the Gulf of Maine with permanent protection from natural resource use? I believe the answer is yes.

My family’s business, Diversified Communications, has served the commercial fishing and seafood industries for over 45 years, through the publication of National Fisherman, Pacific Marine Expo, and the Seafood Expos in Boston and Brussels. Our connections with the commercial fishing and seafood industries have been sources of inspiration and pride for us.

Because we are based in Maine, we are especially close to events in the Gulf of Maine. Unfortunately, since 1969 when NF was first launched, many trends in environmental health, fish stocks and the commercial fishing industry in the Gulf of Maine have not been good. In the 1960s and early ’70s, groundfish stocks were overfished by foreign fleets. There was a rebound after passage of the Magnuson [Stevens] Act, but then a renewed decline in spawning biomass set in. Even now many stocks remain depleted, and the commercial fishing industry is, as well.

There have been meaningful steps toward rebuilding in recent years. The implementation of quotas has resulted in even more fishermen losing their livelihoods, but at least some stocks are healthy or rebuilding. Another source of encouragement has been the opening up of rivers, through dam removal and culvert replacement, allowing the potential rebuilding of forage fish such as alewives and blueback herring.

Still, the Gulf of Maine ecosystem and fisheries resources are far depleted from what they were centuries ago. We can’t go back in time, but what is the potential of the Gulf of Maine to support a healthy marine ecosystem and abundant fish stocks?

Perhaps places like Cashes Ledge can help answer that question. Because of its challenging topography and closure in the past dozen years, Cashes Ledge supports a unique and vibrant ecosystem. It’s known for healthy bottom flora and fauna, and diverse, abundant, and large-sized finfish. There is no other area in the Gulf of Maine that gives as good an example of what the ecosystem and fishery could look like in relatively natural conditions.

Read the full letter here. 

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!

VIDEO: “Cashes Ledge: Jewel of the Gulf of Maine”

Check out this new video from the Witman Lab at Brown University, including highlights from their research and stunning video footage of Cashes Ledge – the jewel of the Gulf of Maine. Evan Kovacs’ video captures a macro view of the Cashes Ledge seascape, and some of the marine species who call the rocky ridges their home.

We must save this beautiful, vital place in the Gulf of Maine. Despite our efforts to show what a spectacular place this is, the White House has said Cashes Ledge isn’t under consideration for a Monument at this time. We know that the science is in our corner, and that the majority of voices speaking up about our campaign to protect this place are resoundingly supportive.

Click here to send a message to your U.S. Senators. Tell them that a Marine National Monument designation without Cashes Ledge is unacceptable and leaves New England’s most precious marine resources at risk.

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

Happy New Year from New England Ocean Odyssey!

Happy New Year, New England ocean lovers! Here are some of New England Ocean Odyssey’s highlights from 2015:

We featured some special species from areas rarely seen with the human eye:

Atlantic Treasures of the Deep

We brought you news about the threats facing our ocean’s wildlife – from overfishing and poor fishery management, to climate change, to oil exploration.

Exploring for Oil Off Nova Scotia Threatens Ocean Wildlife and Our Coastal Economy

The Climate Change Connection: The Warming Gulf of Maine Needs Protected Areas

Fishery Council Vote: Major Losses Overshadow Small Victories

We featured sea creatures each week with our summer Fish Friday series.

Fish Friday Finale

And we went back for another dive at Cashes Ledge.

Beyond the data: Captivating moments at Cashes Ledge

Dive in on Cashes Ledge 2.0

In the fall, we ramped up our efforts to permanently protect Cashes Ledge and the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts.

Save the Whales: Create marine protected areas

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

We learned that climate change is exacerbating an already poor outlook for Atlantic cod in New England.

Baked Cod: The Path Forward in an Era of Climate Change

Will Atlantic Cod Exist in 2036?

In 2016, we’ll keep fighting for a healthy ocean in New England, to protect our wildlife and our coastal communities. Thank you for your support!