Horseshoe Crabs
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Announcing Our June Photo Contest Winner!

Categories: Photo Contest

Congratulations to Naomi Blinick, our winning photographer for June’s contest! This dynamic shot of horseshoe crabs was taken in the waters off Woods Hole, MA. We love the way it highlights the sandy bottom and lush seagrass that provide excellent habitat for marine wildlife.

Horseshoe crabs can create habitat, too! Organisms like mollusks, worms, and sponges often cling to their shells–barnacles and snails are visible on the crabs in this picture.

Do you have a great photo of New England’s oceans to share?  Enter our photo contest! Each month, Brian Skerry will lead our team of judges to select a winner, who will receive a copy of Brian’s book Ocean Soul.

Entering is easy! Explore New England’s oceans, take some photographs and then share them with our online community on Flickr™. All you need to do is add your photos to the New England Ocean Odyssey group and tag them “PhotoContestNEOO”. Find out more here.

Be sure to check our our New England Ocean Odyssey Facebook page where we’ll be posting honorable mentions from the photo contest over the next few days.

We look forward to seeing your photos!

Harbor Seal
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Categories: Guest Posters

Editor’s note, 8/5/13: Due to concerns raised by our blog post and video
showing a diver interacting with a seal, we have decided to remove the post.
For information about the Marine Mammal Protection Act, visit

Please check back soon for new photos and blogs from Michel Labrecque.

Green Sea Urchin by Alex Shure
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Independence and Interdependence – Green Sea Urchins

Categories: Events/Calendar

In honor of this coming 4th of July, we bring you this firecracker explosion of green spines and star-like sprinkling of tube feet. It’s a close-up shot of an important New England ocean citizen – the green sea urchin. These spiny bottom dwellers used to be one of the most important fisheries in Maine (there is a huge Japanese market for sea urchin eggs), but it has been a roller coaster trying to manage them. Why? They are part of an ecosystem so interconnected that when the urchin populations change the entire base of the food chain shifts, seemingly for good.

Green sea urchins graze on sea grasses (also called seaweed or green algae). When, in the late 1980’s, the urchins started to be heavily fished, the seaweed they had been eating began to take over areas that had formerly been dominated by a low growing “coralline” algae. This created habitat for Jonah crabs, which began to eat the remaining sea urchins, which never came back.  Now, “the entire coastal ecosystem has flipped and ‘locked’ into a seaweed-dominated alternate stable state that has persisted for nearly 20 years.”

Researchers at the University of Maine have tried reintroducing tens of thousands of urchins to areas off the coast of Cape Elizabeth – but the large crabs who have found shelter in the newly formed sea grass ecosystem ate them all. What used to eat the crabs and keep their numbers in check? Cod did, among other things. But the cod are not doing well, either. 

The green sea urchin fishery was an important one in Maine, contributing millions of dollars to the economy, and was second only to lobster in value. No longer. We have depleted our ocean of species it used to be full of, and entire ecosystems are changing. 

This story of sea urchins and crabs and cod is a great example of why we need to manage for systems, not for species. Removing an animal or plant out of the context of its own ecosystem and then expecting to make good decisions about it doesn’t work for too long – there are so many interdependent and moving parts. And now, with our oceans rapidly changing due to climate change and ocean acidification, it is even more important for managers to consider the entire system, and not just its components. If nature is going to adapt to a warmer, more acidic ocean, we need to give it the time and space to do so.

I really hope the cod come back, and the urchins recover, and we can rebuild our once world class fisheries. But more than that, I hope we can start seeing ourselves as part of this system, and can look at the ocean as more than our personal grocery store. Ultimately, it won’t matter what’s on the shopping list if the shelves are empty.

keren beach
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Learning About Our Shores With Summer Intern Keren Bitan

Categories: Guest Posters

I’ve always enjoyed swimming in the ocean and taking my dog for walks at a local beach. In the colder months gazing out at the vast ocean from the sand calms my mind, while my fearless dog plays in the water. I love to watch the waves dance on the beach, the white foam form and recede, the sun glitter on the surface.

Two years ago, determined to learn more about the New England shore, I spent a summer at Shoals Marine Lab on Appledore Island. At Shoals, students engage with field work, delving into the science of marine organisms and learning about the rocky coast. Appledore Island is part of the Isles of Shoals, an island chain located off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

I saw my first nudibranch in a tide pool on Appledore. Since nudibranchs can be notoriously hard to find, the hunt for the small invertebrate made finding one even more exciting. I was pleased to learn the serene ocean surface I love houses such fantastic small creatures.

Underneath the waves lies an interconnected and intricate web of species. Beautiful invertebrates like nudibranchs rely on other organisms like algae and sponges to live. While we watch the waves ebb and flow, below the surface millions of organisms are foraging and fighting, creating new life and decomposing old life.

The nudibranch I saw at Shoals is used to the cold New England waters. However, there are around 3000 different species, all with diverse and interesting adaptations and capabilities. Some live in tropical, deeper waters, while others make a home in tide pools on the rocky Maine coast. All nudibranchs are short lived (at most one year), but they live brilliantly.

Brightly colored nudibranchs exhibit warning coloring. The colors show predators the animal is poisonous. Some individuals concentrate poison from the sponges they eat in order to become toxic themselves. In an impressive feat, nudibranchs that feed on hydroids which contain nematocsyts (stinging cells) are able to retain the stinging cells without harming themselves. The nudibranchs can then store the cells and later deploy them against potential predators- a tricky maneuver!

Marine organisms rely on certain foods and temperatures in order to survive- just like you and me. For instance, if a nudibranch acclimated to a cool tide pool at Shoals was transported to the tropical sea, it would likely die. As the climate changes, the environment individual marine animals depend on is changing too. As part of a more than 40 year long monitoring project at Shoals, I (and a team of other interns) spent time identifying algae, dog whelks, periwinkles, and other marine organisms in the intertidal (the area between low and high tide). Comparing the information we collected with information from 40 years ago will help to paint a picture regarding long term changes on the shores of New England.

Learning more about interconnected and fascinating marine ecosystems can inspire us to work to protect our ocean in the face of climate change. Like some marine organisms that rely on each other in order to survive, we also exist in an interdependent relationship with the sea; half of the oxygen we breathe comes from small marine organisms called phytoplankton. Healthy ocean ecosystems benefit both the magnificent creatures that live in the water, and the humans on land that depend on them.

With the knowledge I’ve gained at Shoals I see the rocky coast with new eyes. I notice algal blooms, snails in tide pools, and blue mussel shells in the sand. Learning more about marine ecosystems has only enhanced my affinity for the sea. I was fortunate enough to work with a great team at Shoals in researching our ocean; I hope to partner with many more ocean enthusiasts in working to protect the beaches and shores I love.

Coral Transect

Keren is a rising senior at Cornell University studying Biology and Society, with minors in Marine Biology and Science of Earth Systems. She has loved the ocean since she was old enough to walk along the sea shore. Keren recently spent time researching water quality on the Kona Coast of Hawai’i Island with The Nature Conservancy. She has also researched the Maine intertidal ecosystem as it reacts to climate change at Shoals Marine Laboratory. Keren is a native of Southern Maine, where she enjoys taking her dog for walks and exploring the rocky coast. She is excited to spend the summer interning with the Communications Department at CLF!

Noel LaPierre rides a nice one. Photo by Laura Florence Upton
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International Surfing Day Gets Locally Styled

The Stoke – that’s what surfers call the impossible to ignore compulsion to take to the water in all kinds of weather and waves. We asked Surfrider Foundation member, volunteer, and fully-stoked ocean enthusiast Noel LaPierre to share his story with us today – in honor of International Surfing Day. -Ed.

When people find out that I surf in New England I’m usually met with surprise: “There are waves in New England!?” While it is true the conditions for surfing here aren’t nearly as perfect or consistent as say, the west coast, the fact is, great surfing conditions can be found right here – you just have to know what you’re looking for and be driven by “wave stoke”. While I’ve travelled thousands of miles to find consistent surf, there’s nothing quite as sweet as scoring perfect conditions, however few and far between, right in your own backyard. Here’s my attempt to describe just how great a perfect session in New England can be:

Hills of sand and dawn skies frame the scene. I tune into the rhythm of the waves and their thunderous growls as they meet their end upon the glistening shore. The scent of neoprene tinges the air and an awkward dance of exertion results in a rubbery second skin. My excited fingers zip up my wetsuit and unzip the surfbag. A flat plank and fins with roots in a far off land materialize. Here a ritual begins – an action almost in prayer: I bend at the waist over my pulpit, a wax remnant in hand, circling and circling again over the deck. The ritual concludes and there is a nervous double-check for the key, then doors shut with certainty.

The march to the water’s edge commences; adrenaline pumping in cadence. On the way down, my senses are engaged and analyzing: there is the sight of rips and breaks, the feel of the wind’s breath on my ears, and the sweet taste of briny air with every inhalation. This sensory analysis produces a decision, a decision that draws upon the past as well as the present. Where do I get in and what’s the best route? Which break is working today? With a nervous pit in my stomach I silently answer these questions and then, finally, my paddle seaward begins.

The first touch of water sends icy chills through me as it enters my boots and extends across my back. These few moments of discomfort are required before this very same water is heated by anticipation-fueled strokes. There is a heavy, necessary exertion with each alternating pull, a rhythmic sacrifice of energy in every cycle: catch and release, catch and release. I keep churning as I confront one whitewater wall after another until finally I’m outside the breakline and a quiet-calm settles all around. I sit up, breathe and regain, lulled by the tempo of rolling giants. Breathing. Sensing. With every pulse, I become more electrified and connected to the surroundings, energy flowing back through me. Finally, the moment I have been working toward –  a disruption occurs along the contrast between water and sky and I catch a glimpse of a peak behind the marching lines. A perfect, head-high wave approaches, one that was meant to meet me as much as I was meant to meet it.

Quickly, I turn and go, vibrating now. Digging my arms deep into the water, I look left then right and paddle hard toward shore as the water rushes back, briefly slowing my progress. Suddenly the board tail lifts as the wave takes over and just as suddenly the nose angles steeper and then steeper still. In one fluid motion with hands on rails, I consciously counter instinct, lean forward, and get to my feet. With tremendous acceleration I scream down the mountain that has intensified beneath me, spray flying as though it had burst from a hose. In the flats now, with the giant looming, I realize I’ve survived the drop and endorphins erupt.

I lean back, lift the nose in the air and carve a turn to the left. As I run parallel to the wave, I reach out my hand and feel the smooth green face as I glide by. Looking up I see the lip fluttering white as rays of sunlight shimmer amid the drops that have begun to rain down on my head. I’m immersed in the moment, fully alive and completely connected with an energy that has traveled millions of miles, shifting from one medium to another, until finally, it has reached me. I run out to the soft shoulder, grinning widely. While the ride has lasted only a few seconds it has re-charged a desire I must fulfill. Elated, I turn seaward in hopes of repeating the sequence all over again.

After spending years in and around the ocean, surfing, swimming, or hanging out with my kids on the beach, I’ve come to recognize the terrific value of this natural resource. Be it economic, spiritual, or recreational, the benefits of the ocean are many. But they are not limitless. It’s not good enough for us to simply recognize the benefits the ocean provides; we need to recognize our role in its health and sustainability. We need to become guardians of the ocean. After all, life and quality of life depends upon it. Thank you for joining me in my reflection on my personal New England Ocean Odyssey.

Noel LaPierre

Noel LaPierre

About Noel: I am a father of three, active member of the MA Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and have been surfing regularly for about 6 years, thanks to my agreeable wife Heather, who at times does get anxious when I paddle out alone. In addition to surfing, I love to swim in the ocean, and when it’s too cold to swim outside I train for short course meets with Boston University Masters Swimming. When I’m not immersed in water I’m chasing after my little ones (Calvin 9, Anna 7, Hazel 21 mos) or working as Director of Web Solutions at Hologic, Inc., a medical device company based in Bedford, MA.