There has never been a better time to care about the ocean than now. The ocean provides us with so many things – half of the air we breathe, an amazing variety of things to eat, a place of beauty and refuge and sometimes fury. This year the New England coast line was pummeled by tropical storms and Northeasters, reminding us yet again that our glorious ocean is powerful, relentless and unforgiving. Despite our ingenuity and technical know-how, we live in a natural and changing environment and need to better plan and protect our ocean ourselves going forward.
We used to think that the ocean was so big, and life in it so abundant, that nothing we did could harm it or exhaust its resources. But now, because of us, the ocean is changing fast and in dramatic ways. It is getting warmer, more acidic, and ever more crowded – as we consider new uses like tidal and wind energy development in addition to our historic ones like fishing, shipping, sailing and other recreation. The fabric of New England’s ocean ecosystems is changing, too. Previously depleted populations of sharks and seals are on the rise, while other species like Atlantic cod and yellowtail flounder have plummeted. And there’s evidence that the changing ocean chemistry will profoundly affect the entire food chain, from tiny plankton on up.
The time to care is now. With climate change affecting our oceans in ways we are only beginning to understand, now is the time to restore the health of our ocean so that it can be as resilient as possible to the changes that are coming. Ocean conservation has been part of our work at CLF since the mid-1970s when we were a scrappy little organization on Beacon Hill fighting the federal government and the oil industry over oil and gas drilling on Georges Bank – New England’s most important fishing grounds. We won that case, then won it again and again as the oil industry kept knocking on New England’s door. Ocean conservation is part of our history and is embedded in our DNA, and we are still working hard to protect our ocean and keep it thriving for future generations of New Englanders in many ways:
- Keeping vital habitat protected – special places like Cashes Ledge, a breathtakingly beautiful underwater mountain range 80 miles off the coast of Cape Ann, home to the largest coldwater kelp forest on the North Atlantic seaboard. Cashes Ledge provides rich habitat for many of our most amazing and iconic sea creatures – Atlantic cod and wolffish to bluefin tuna and North Atlantic right whales. Some of these species are on the brink of existence in our waters, and truly need places of refuge to sustain and rebuild their populations. CLF has recently gone to court to keep current protected habitat areas, including Cashes Ledge, closed to destructive trawl and dredge fishing gear.
- Working for an end to overfishing – all the habitat protection in the world won’t help a species recover if the fishing pressure is too high. CLF has been fighting for sustainable New England fisheries for decades, and we still aren’t there. Cod numbers are currently at a very small fraction of what a healthy population would be. We have asked for a moratorium on directed cod fishing until their numbers recover – in opposition to the current political push to increase catch limits. Can you imagine New England without cod? Neither can we – which is why we have gone to federal court against fisheries managers to stop them from increasing catch limits on cod and other imperiled groundfish until the populations are better recovered.
- Supporting our nation’s first regional ocean plan – New England is leading the nation in ocean planning. With the increasing pressures on our rapidly changing water, we need to better coordinate all of our uses to minimize conflict and make decisions based on the whole ecosystem, as opposed to individual uses. CLF has been involved in ocean planning from the start, advising and supporting our states on the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan and Rhode Island Special Area Management Plan. And now we are actively supporting development of the nation’s first regional ocean plan by the Northeast Regional Planning Body – made up of state, federal, and tribal representatives and convened pursuant to the National Ocean Policy.
- Celebrating our beautiful ocean – Our New England Ocean Odyssey campaign is all about showcasing the amazing, breathtaking, important, and often strange things that lie beneath our waves. We have one of the most productive, diverse ocean ecosystems on the planet right off our shores, and we hope that by bringing you the gorgeous photography of Brian Skerry and others, and engaging stories, you will be inspired to help us protect it.
- Restoring historic river herring runs – After 18 years, ocean-going alewives (also known as river herring) can return to their ancestral spawning habitat on the St. Croix River in northern Maine and eventually make the St. Croix the largest river herring run in New England once again. CLF fought for this right on two fronts. First, we successfully filed suit against the EPA last year to enforce water quality standards, successfully arguing that a 1995 law excluding alewives from parts of the St. Croix river conflicted with the river’s Class A water quality designation under the Clean Water Act. Second, CLF worked with other environmental organizations and the Passamaquoddy Nation to support emergency legislation in Maine to repeal the alewife exclusion law. The alewife, is a “keystone species” that provides food for many animals, birds and larger fish species native to Maine’s marine and fresh waters, and restoring it to its native river habitat is a wonderful reason to celebrate.
We will continue to fight these battles for a healthy ocean so we have more to celebrate next World Oceans Day, and the one after that, and beyond. Please stay with us on our voyage and be part of a better ocean future in New England.