Oceans Communications Associate Amanda Yanchury recounts her experience joining the diving team for a day at the Isles of Shoals.
Hailing from the land of 10,000 lakes (Minnesota), and having spent the last couple of years near a beach in San Diego, I’ve been lucky to have exposure to different types of water. However, as a recent New England transplant, I admit to knowing very little about the Atlantic Ocean in New England – and as the new Oceans Communication Associate for the Conservation Law Foundation, I have a lot to learn!
That’s why I jumped at the chance to spend a day accompanying the CLF-sponsored dive team at work off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine collecting scientific data and photographic and filming the unique marine wildlife at Isles of Shoals and Cashes Ledge.
I arrived excited to get out to sea. Unfortunately, the ocean didn’t return the sentiment. As soon as we made it to our destination at Isles of Shoals’ Mingo Rock, I started to feel seasick. Any slight amusement over being hired to work for the oceans program despite not being able to be on the ocean was quickly overtaken by an unyielding nausea.
I’ll spare you the details, and will just say that thanks to the expert advice of the divers and the well-equipped captain (the Dramamine was a lifesaver!), I mercifully started to perk up towards the end of the day – in time to chat with the researchers and underwater photographers, and view some amazing photos of the colorful kelp, fish, seals and other marine wildlife.
Habitat protection matters
My unfortunate first experience on the sea is a reminder that the ocean is a powerful body. Within it, entire ecosystems exist – preserving those ecosystems will have lasting implications for the coastal economy and for maintaining healthy oceans into the future.
Cashes Ledge, for example, is an underwater mountain range that is a vital refuge for a remarkable host of species – from wolffish to sea stars, to the Atlantic cod that’s seeing historic lows in abundance. Protected areas like Cashes Ledge are a key component of the long term plan to rebuild New England’s depleted populations of cod, flounders, and other groundfish that in turn provide delicious seafood and support our centuries-old fishing industry. Cashes Ledge and other protected areas are also important for for scientific research and discovery around the effects of climate change on ocean habitats and wildlife.
During my day on the boat, I learned about Dr. Jon Witman’s research on coastal and offshore ecosystems in the Gulf of Maine and the changes in kelp and fish abundance over time. His team is currently collecting data to provide the scientific information that will shape the future of Cashes Ledge.
Dr. Witman’s research is especially relevant because of the continued conversations regarding protected areas: which areas receive which levels of protection, as determined by New England’s regional fishery management council and NOAA. These bodies rely on scientific recommendations for understanding which areas to keep closed, and which should be opened. Just this week, however, the New England Fishery Management Council passed a plan that cut protected habitat areas by 60 percent, despite the science recommending otherwise.
As I’m learning about these critically important areas, I’m wondering how much people know about the world that is just out of sight under the water’s surface. Do they know that Cashes Ledge’s kelp forest is the largest and deepest along the Atlantic seaboard? Or that we have coral beds that take centuries to grow, providing food, spawning habitat, and shelter for an array of fish and invertebrate species? Or that some of the deep-sea canyons just off of Georges Bank rival the Grand Canyon in scale?
Do they know about the lasting effects of overfishing? Are they aware about the ways in which the planned uses of the ocean and shoreline can affect their communities?
Our goal here at Conservation Law Foundation is to help people find answers to those questions so they can learn about New England’s oceans and the consequences of our choices and make good decisions about the future of our ocean. We’re not afraid to take on opponents who value short-term profit over long-term sustainability as we seek to inform communities about the importance of ocean issues.
On the Research Vessel Tioga, we were lucky to get a hands-on view of what it takes to conduct research in the ocean, and were allowed a rare view into the experience of exploring and caring for this underwater world.
In New England, ocean habitats matter. Take it from me – this ocean is a force not to be ignored.
To see pictures from this month’s dive, check out New England Ocean Odyssey on Facebook.