How Do You Enjoy the Northeast Coast?

The following is a message from Surfrider:

Do you love to walk along the ocean beaches, watch the magnificent marine wildlife, surf, sunbathe, kayak, SUP (stand up paddle board), canoe, swim, or engage in any other type of recreational ocean activity?  If so, your help is needed!

The Northeast Ocean Plan is in development and decision-makers need more information on how visitors and residents enjoy the Northeast coast.  This survey is a proactive opportunity for beach lovers who are 18+ years old to provide that missing information, to help identity New England’s recreational areas and uses so they are part of the ocean planning process.

If you don’t identify your special coastal place, who will?

Take the survey today and share the link with your friends!

For more information, contact Melissa Gates or visit northeast.surfrider.org and neoceanplanning.org

 

Image via Shuttershock

Diving The Heroic in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

This story and video of a wreck dive on Stellwagen Bank was shared by Alex Shure, a regular contributor to the New England Ocean Odyssey photo contest. For more information on shipwrecks on Stellwagen, see this post from Matthew Lawrence.

I recently had the opportunity to dive The Heroic, one of several shipwrecks located in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. The Heroic began its life as an Accentor-class coastal minesweeper built during World War II. Now, over 70 years later, its final resting place is marked by a large engine block, decaying wooden ribs, and a trail of ghostly debris scattered about an otherwise sparse sandy bottom 100 feet below the ocean surface.

We set out mid-morning from Beverly Harbor with Northern Atlantic Dive Expeditions planning for a dive at slack tide. After a remarkably calm ride out to the wreck site, 2 divers dropped into the water to tie onto a mooring recently installed by NOAA. As the first divers descended, we could still see their tanks and blue gloves 20 feet beneath the boat; this would be a good dive. I donned my gear and readied my camera with great enthusiasm for the wreck below. Steadily lowering myself along the downline deeper into the crisp water, The Heroic’s engine was visible from almost 50 feet away! As I got closer, the shadowy structure beneath gave way to a worn metal block swarmed with cunner and encrusted in hydroids. There’s not much “wreck” beyond the massive engine, but what is there has turned into an artificial reef for the local inhabitants. Shooting photos and video, I managed to burn through my bottom time before I knew it.  I waved goodbye to all of the rebreathers and reluctantly ascended back up the line looking backwards at the disappearing wreck below me.

Stellwagen exploration is the pinnacle of SCUBA in New England. Due to its location and unique underwater topography, many species of marine life call this sanctuary home. Its human visitors have the inherent adventure of offshore diving. Visibility in the sanctuary tends to be spectacular and there is a rich variety of locations, wrecks and wildlife at recreational depths. Divers get all this and can still be home in time for dinner. One can easily compare diving Stellwagen to visiting a national park above water. It is a place that deserves our respect, admiration and perhaps most importantly, our protection.

Image credit: Alex Shure

Meet Our Dive Team

 

With our dive team busy exploring Cashes Ledge and other sites in the Gulf of Maine, we thought we’d introduce you to our star-studded team of ocean adventurers!

 

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Brian Skerry is a renowned underwater photographer praised around the world for his aesthetic sense and evocative scenes. His images tell stories that not only celebrate the mystery and beauty of the sea, but also help bring attention to the threats that endanger our oceans and their inhabitants.

A contributing photographer for National Geographic Magazine since 1998, Brian has covered a wide range of stories, from the harp seal’s struggle to survive in frozen waters to the alarming decrease in the world’s fisheries. His latest book, a 160-photo monograph entitled Ocean Soul, was published in 2011.

Skerry is also a passionate ocean advocate. After three decades of exploring the world’s oceans, the Massachusetts native has returned to the Gulf of Maine to document and protect its exceptional diversity of marine wildlife and habitat.

 

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Jon Witman is a professor of biology at Brown University. He has studied the ecology of subtidal marine communities for over 30 years, and has conducted research in six of the world’s seven oceans.

Jon led the first ecological study of overfishing in the Gulf of Maine. He has published numerous per-reviewed papers and book chapters on the invertebrate and fish communities that thrive on the rocky seafloor at Cashes Ledge, and he has also studied the internal waves that support primary productivity in the area. He is committed to protecting the ecological and scientific value of this unique marine habitat.

Jon will also be joined on the expedition by his Ph.D. student Robbie Lamb.

 

EvanKovacs

Evan Kovacs started his filming career in 2003 on the History Channel’s underwater adventure series Deep Sea Detectives.  He has also had an ongoing filming relationship with the Emmy award winning Lonewolf Documentary Group, and recently the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).

With WHOI’s Advanced Imaging and Visualization Lab, Evan has filmed on the deep submersible ALVIN and the ROV Jason. Currently he is working with the lab to develop the next generation of 3D and 2D cameras and shooting techniques for topside and underwater imaging. Evan has been diving for over 18 years and has dived on shipwrecks, caves and reefs across the world.

 

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Luis Lamar is a scientific technician with WHOI’s Advanced Imaging and Visualization Lab. He has filmed and photographed marine life around the world, from New Zealand to Micronesia. Lu has assisted Brian Skerry on numerous dive expeditions and has captured video of the kelp forests on Cashes Ledge for Conservation Law Foundation.

 

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Ken Houtler is the captain of WHOI’s R/V Tioga, a research boat launched in 2004 and designed for day and overnight trips in coastal waters. Ken has led the vessel on countless research expeditions in New England waters, including trips to deploy and recover autonomous oceanographic instruments, to collect data on harmful algal blooms, and to tag endangered North Atlantic right whales.

 

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Liz Kintzing is the expedition’s dive captain. Liz supervises the academic diving program at the University of New Hampshire’s School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering, and she also sits on the board of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences. She has been diving with Jon Witman on Cashes Ledge for over 20 years.

Dive In with Brian Skerry as He Prepares to Photograph Cashes Ledge

Over the past two years, National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry has taken us on an incredible tour of some of our region’s marine life—from blue sharks to red cod to North Atlantic right whales.

We now have some exciting news to share with you all—over the next two weeks, Brian Skerry will return to the Gulf of Maine and Cashes Ledge to photograph more of New England’s incredible marine life and habitat!

Brian has photographed marine life around the world—from China to Spain and everywhere in between—so we’re excited to have him return to his native New England waters (he’s originally from Uxbridge, MA). Brian has called New England Ocean Odyssey “an opportunity to bring my fellow New Englanders along with me and show them that our ocean is every bit as thrilling and surprising and beautiful as seemingly more exotic locales.”

From May 25 to June 6, Brian will dive from the R/V Tioga out of Portsmouth, NH. The ultimate goal: to return to Cashes Ledge, an ecological marvel 100 miles off the Maine coast. This underwater mountain range rises to within 40 feet of the surface. Being so close to the surface exposes this mountaintop to sunlight, and its steep topography creates internal waves that mix nutrient- and oxygen-rich water. This mixing supports incredible productivity, including the deepest and largest cold water kelp forest along the Atlantic seaboard. The diverse habitat of Cashes Ledge draws in an incredible array of marine wildlife—rare anemones and sponges, fish like cod, wolffish, and bluefin tuna, blue and porbeagle sharks, and endangered North Atlantic right whales and humpback whales.

The exact dive locations will depend on a lot of factors, like weather and visibility, but Brian and the team are hoping to visit sites from the inshore Isles of Shoals to more far-flung locations, including Cashes Ledge. Along the way, Brian will be joined by a team of ocean scientists, advocates, photographers, and videographers, including Dr. Jon Witman, a marine ecologist who led the first ecological study of overfishing in the Gulf of Maine and has spent decades studying invertebrate and fish communities on Cashes Ledge and other marine habitats in the region. We’ll be introducing more members of our dive team to you over the next two weeks.

Brian and the entire team are looking forward to exploring some of the incredible habitat the Gulf of Maine has to offer, from rocky shoals to anemone beds to lush kelp forests. Over the next two weeks, be sure to follow Conservation Law Foundation and New England Ocean Odyssey on Facebook and on Twitter at #CLFDive2014 as we share snapshots and updates from this one-of-a-kind expedition. With Brian as our guide, we look forward to revealing more of the amazing wonders beneath New England’s waves.

Getting Educated – Sea Rovers Style

I’ll be honest with you – I tend to stay on top of the water when I’m in the ocean. Or, I try, anyway. As a surfer the goal is to spend as little time underwater as possible. Especially in the winter. But I’m starting to think I’m missing out on something by avoiding the chilly depths of our Gulf of Maine.

The Boston Sea Rovers, one of the oldest underwater clubs in the nation, hosted its 59th annual show this past weekend, and I was lucky enough to be there with some fellow CLFers. We went to talk about the importance of preserving valuable habitat, like Cashes Ledge, for protecting our fragile ocean ecosystems and helping our dwindling groundfish stocks recover.

We hoped that by showing people Brian Skerry’s beautiful photographs of the gorgeous kelp forest and amazing animals of Cashes Ledge, the divers would be inspired to help us protect it. They were – we got hundreds of signatures on our petition to ask our fisheries managers to protect essential habitat in the Gulf of Maine. And, while we may have gone there to talk, we ended up doing a lot of listening as well. Here are just a few things I learned after spending two days talking with divers:

  • The Gulf of Maine is an excellent place to dive. There are so many wonderful animals to see here.
  • But visibility often stinks. This is partly due to the very productive nature of our waters. As phytoplankton bloom and the food chain gets going, it gets a little harder to see. Or, poor visibility can be due to human activities in the water (see next bullet).
  • The ocean floor looks pretty bad after a bottom trawler comes through. I heard this dozens of times this weekend. “It looks like a freshly plowed field,” said one diver, and you can see the sediment plume from miles away.
  • The next time I want to talk to divers about the amazing beauty of Cashes Ledge, I’d better bring a map so they know how to get there and see for themselves.
  • The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the Discovery Channel have partnered to develop a robot that can follow a white shark. Seriously. I saw the footage. More on this later in the month (yes, I am totally geeking out on this).

 

I also learned that, in spite of difficulties equalizing my ears underwater, there may be ways I can still get down below, if I take things very slowly. I’m pretty stoked to find out if that’s true. My 10 year old son, who was with me this weekend, wants to learn also. Even more motivating!

I’m not sure I’ll be as hardy as diver Zachary Whalen, who took this awesome picture under the ice, but maybe I can at least go down below on a warmer day and watch the seals that I usually only see when they pop their heads up next to me while I surf. But if there are waves – I’m bringing my board.

Our Sea Rovers photo contest winner loves a good dive!

Congratulations to Josh Cummings, for submitting the photo Brian Skerry chose as the winner of this month’s contest – this exquisite image of a moon snail navigating the sandy bottom of Folly Cove in Rockport, MA. We asked Josh to tell us more about his passion for diving in New England. Read on to hear about Josh’s New England Ocean Odyssey.

 

My first experiences underwater date back to the early 1980’s while I was on a family vacation. Being only eight years old, I was way too young to dive, but all it took was one snorkeling trip and I was hooked. What I saw was a whole new world; colorful tropical fish in crystal clear warm water swimming amongst vibrant canyon like coral reefs. My little brother and I explored for hours, watching animals such as parrot fish munching on coral, angelfish chasing each other around and moray eels curiously staring us down.

As soon as we got home from that trip, my parents took us down to the local dive shop where I got my first mask and snorkel set; this was the beginning of my love for diving.  After a wait that seemed eternal, my little brother and I signed up for a scuba diving course when he was twelve and I was thirteen:  just old enough. 

We grew up in New Hampshire, close to the Vermont border, where there were no tropical fish or coral reefs to be found, but we were still amazed by what we could find beneath the surface. In those ponds and lakes we were free, able to move around three-dimensionally through the water and swim amongst the trout, bass, and pumpkinseed; still holding out hope that one of Captain Kidd’s ships ended up in a New Hampshire pond.

I continued snorkeling and diving in the nearby ponds and lakes until college, when diving really became an obsession. I took a job at the local dive shop, Underwater Sports of NH, learning everything I could about the sport, and went diving as much as I could.  I dreamt of diving in far-off exotic lands, but being a broke college student kept me in New England. There were still many adventures to be had – off beaches, on shipwrecks, under the ice, in caves and even quarries. 

 

Herring and beer bottle

Back then, I began to notice the destructive influence people have had on our marine environment. I saw the destruction caused by draggers, the deaths caused by carelessly discarded or lost fishing gear, centuries-old and modern trash, as well as the devastating effects of invasive species, such as zebra mussels. 

I noticed that when I recounted my stories to non-divers they were surprised by two things: 1) That there is anything to see in New England waters; and 2) That activities, like carelessly conducted fishing and boating or forgetting that plastic cup on the beach, had long-term consequences. 

I did what I thought I could to help the situation. I participated in underwater clean ups and reminded customers to properly clean their equipment and boats when traveling between water bodies. These were little things that helped, but I knew they were only temporary and small solutions – a Band-Aid. The real solution lies in changing people’s attitudes and behaviors. 

I left the dive shop after I graduated and started my career in the environmental field, but I kept on diving. As soon as I could, I bought a high quality underwater camera system so I could finally share with family and friends what I saw in those murky ponds and chilly surf. As I practiced and slowly got better, I saw how many people were amazed by the colors, beauty, and sheer volume of life in our New England waters. 

I soon realized that the best way to convey the natural beauty of the life in our waters, as well as the damage being done, was through photographs. I wanted to show the destruction, while also showing what is there to protect. 

While I have yet to publish any of my photographs commercially, I am proud to have provided many of my photographs to organizations and agencies aimed at protecting our environment such as CLF’s New England Ocean Odyssey, the U.S. EPA and the USACE.  Over the past year I have been able to document some incredible marine life behaviors: Atlantic squid mating and laying their eggs, and herring migrating through a rushing herring run. Small wonders happening right here in our backyards. 

People often ask, “Where is your favorite place to dive?” It’s a hard question to answer. In my 25years underwater, I have been fortunate enough to dive all over the world (Caribbean, Mexico, California, Thailand, and Palau) with each providing an incredibly different and new experience, but I will always love the excitement and adventure that our New England waters offer. This is my personal New England Ocean Odyssey.

Josh

Josh Cummings is an Environmental Scientist for Jacobs Engineering at the New Bedford Harbor Superfund Site. He has a degree in Industrial Chemistry and has been a certified diver since 1987 with certifications through PADI, TDI and IANTD. 

Celebrating a Herring Victory

It has been a slightly better year to be a river herring (alewife or blueback herring) in New England. For the first time since the 19th century these anadromous fish – fish that migrate from saltwater to freshwater to breed –  made it to the Upper Mystic Lake under their own power, thanks to a brand new fish ladder on the Mystic Lakes Dam. This is cause for celebration, and we’d like to have this kind of party more often in New England.

River herring are an important part of both river and ocean ecosystems. They can keep plankton blooms from impairing water quality in freshwater (maybe this could help the Mystic River get a better grades), and in saltwater they provide food for striped bass, bluefin tuna, cod, bluefish, and many other commercially, recreationally, and ecologically important animals. They’re the aquatic equivalent of rabbits – they keep the grass from getting too tall and they feed the big animals. But they need to be able to migrate upstream in order to breed like rabbits.

CLF has been working to improve the health of river herring in New England for some time now. Several months ago we filed a lawsuit against EPA to restore alewives to the St. Croix River in Maine– an action necessary to undo the State of Maine’s intentional obstruction of these fish from their native range.

Ultimately, EPA agreed with CLF and our contention that the fish must be restored. So did the Passamaquoddy Tribe, joined by other Maine tribes, who have requested Maine’s Governor Le Page to repeal the state law preventing the fish from migrating. The State of Maine has ignored EPA’s finding and the tribal requests and refuses to let the alewives through. CLF filed suit against the State of Maine in October, to continue our efforts on behalf of these native fish. Hopefully Maine will let the alewives in the St. Croix River finally go home.

CLF is a member of the Herring Alliance, a coalition of environmental groups that formed to help protect and restore ocean wildlife and ecosystems in the Northeast. The Herring Alliance is working to stop the wasteful bycatch of river herring by large, industrial trawlers, and is also working to protect ecologically important Atlantic herring (an exclusively saltwater herring) by putting an end to overfishing. Now that would be a party!

Note: The beautiful photograph above was an entry in our New England Ocean Odyssey photo contest from the talented J.R. Cummings.You can enter your photo, too! Find out more here and enter here