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Wishing you a Fin-tastic 2014!

Categories: Creature Features

Thank you so much for joining us on our New England Ocean Odyssey. We hope you stick around for another year of inspiring photography, heartfelt ocean conservation stories, and good clean shark fun! Happy New Year!

Thanks to Michel Labrecque for this photo contest winning blue shark image - it was reallly fun to dress up.

An undated image of members of the L Street Brownies - one of the oldest "polar bear" clubs in the US. Photo credit
An undated image of members of the L Street Brownies - one of the oldest "polar bear" clubs in the US. Photo credit
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Why Not Go for a Swim? It’s Polar Bear Plunge Season!

Categories: Guest Posters

Winter in New England is not for the faint of heart. Ice, snow, frigid cold temperatures and a biting wind  require residents of the region to steel themselves against sometimes ferocious weather. Shoveling sidewalks and driveways and trudging into the office through the wind tunnels created by the city skyscrapers can be a miserable experience.

For some us, though, the winter snow and freezing temperatures magically transforms our landscape — unlocking a winter wonderland of outdoor recreation. We can’t wait to head for the mountains to ski or slap on a pair of skates to glide, or more often, bump along  the frozen lakes and ponds. And there is nothing more exciting than flying down the backyard hills on sleds and saucers with your kids holding on for dear life.

But the holidays also bring out the most peculiar of New England winter traditions – the Polar Bear Plunge. In the coming week, tens of thousands of New Englanders will take to beaches across the region en masse on Christmas and New Years Day for an invigorating dip in the ocean. Why? Well, according to Bernaar MacFadden, the founder of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, which claims to be the oldest “winter bathing” organization in the United States, swimming in the ocean in the wintertime is “a boon to one’s stamina, virility and immunity.”

I suppose a plunge into 45 degrees Fahrenheit water (and that’s what the sea surface temperature currently is registering at the Jeffrey’s Ledge weather buoy in the Gulf of Maine), might have a way of making you feel alive, but the true health benefits of shocking your system are up for debate. Some doctors advise caution before taking a winter swim, as the rush of adrenaline caused by the coldwater plunge can cause hyperventilation and irregular heart rhythms.

But that doesn’t stop the South Boston’s L Street Brownies who have been jumping into the ocean off Carson Beach every New Year’s Day since 1904, after one member reportedly posed the simple question, “Why don’t we go for a swim?” Whatever the risk, communities up and down the New England coast will flock to the seaside, run and jump wildly in and out of the ocean and once again celebrate sea no matter what the season. Why not go for a swim? Happy holidays to all!

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Announcing Our November Photo Contest Winner!

Categories: Photo Contest

Congratulations to Zach Whalen, our winning photographer for November’s contest! We love this unusual view of a common sight in New England’s waters and the way it showcases the spectacular coloring of a northern lobster.

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 continue to post honorable mentions from the photo contest and other great ocean photography.

We look forward to seeing your photos!

Around 300,000 pounds of oyster shells from Boston restaurants are thrown away. Two researchers at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design have a better idea. Photo credit: Jules Morgan via Flickr
Around 300,000 pounds of oyster shells from Boston restaurants are thrown away. Two researchers at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design have a better idea. Photo credit: Jules Morgan via Flickr
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Oyster Gardens for a Healthy Boston Harbor

Categories: Guest Posters

Jenny Corlett & Kelly Murphy are researchers at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design exploring the productive potential of the oyster waste stream in Boston.

Do you like oysters? If so, you’re not alone. 4.1 million pounds of oysters were harvested in Massachusetts alone last year. Oysters have always been part of New England’s foodscape, and oyster reefs were a crucial element of the underwater ecosystem that filtered nutrients from our estuaries and maintained our harbors rich natural resource areas.

Oysters not only clean our water, but also act as shoreline buffers that dissipate wave energy. What’s more, oyster reefs support critical fisheries by providing habitat for other marine life. Oyster reefs, however, are now one of the most severely impacted marine habitats on Earth: over 85% have been lost globally.

We hear a lot about oysters these days – from their ability to reinforce coastlines against increasingly powerful storms, to filter pollutants out of our water (the average adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water per day), and about the foodie culture surrounding their consumption. There is, however, an important gap in our oyster conversation: what about the waste associated with their consumption?

What happens to oyster shells once they’ve been discarded?

Most people have never thought about what’s left over eating oysters. But did you know that:

  • Over 40 restaurants in Boston serve oysters.
  • Each restaurant generates around 20 pounds of oyster shells per day.
  • Together, this totals over 300,000 pounds of oyster shells per year in Boston alone.
  • Only 4 restaurants currently recycle their shells, meaning that of the vast majority of shells are currently landfilled.


Why? Because Boston doesn’t have anywhere better to put them. But within this broken cycle lies an opportunity for Boston to address two key problems: discarded shells and oyster reef decline. While there are numerous productive uses for discarded oyster shell, the best use by far is as a surface for juvenile oysters to attach to and grow on. The link between the two problems presents an exciting opportunity to propose a better system.

Imagine if all those discarded shells were used to help build new oyster reefs and a re-establish a healthy harbor ecosystem! By establishing a city-wide oyster gardening program we could close the gap in the oyster waste stream.

What is oyster gardening? The idea is simple: raise native oysters in cages attached to docks or existing infrastructure. Once the oysters reach 3 inches, they can be dropped into approved waters to construct and replenish oyster reefs.

Oyster gardening could simultaneously restore native oyster reefs, improve local water quality, and reconnect the people of Boston with their waterfront. There are a number of successful precedents for oyster gardening programs around the region. Oyster gardens are thriving in places like New York, Virginia, Tennessee, Delaware, and New Hampshire, to name a few.

The waters of the Boston Harbor are mostly closed to shell fishing due to the risk of oysters being harvested illegally in polluted waters. However, nursery areas for shellfish seeding projects are permitted if they are transplanted to approved waters. Over the last three years, the Massachusetts Oyster Project has proven that oysters can survive in Boston Harbor. In just a few years, oyster gardeners could use discarded restaurant shells to grow thousands of oysters in the Boston Harbor and re-stock endangered reefs in the region.

What can you do to help? Get involved in the oyster discussion directly: the next time you order oysters at a restaurant, ask whether they recycle their shells. Just by asking that simple question, you can put the thought into the minds of the chef, wait staff, and restaurant owners. Use your power as a consumer to help frame the discussion and generate support for oyster shell recycling and gardening.

If you’re interested in learning more about other efforts to re-establish oysters in the Boston Harbor, take a look at the Massachusetts Oyster Project  and Green Harbors Project at UMass Boston.

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New England Fisheries Managers: Get Your Facts Straight about Habitat

Thousands of acres of New England’s protected ocean wildlife habitat in such places as Cashes Ledge, Stellwagen Bank, Jeffrey’s Ledge and Georges Bank is again at risk as the New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) heads into next week’s meeting.

The NEFMC is scheduled to identify its preferences for which ocean habitat areas will be protected from the impacts of bottom trawling and other harmful fishing gear. This work is part of the NEFMC’s ongoing development of the Omnibus Habitat Amendment (OHA). While a final OHA decision is not expected until June, the selection of preferred alternatives will set the stage for final scientific analysis and public involvement to decide the fate of the best remaining habitat in all of New England’s ocean.

Some of the ocean habitat areas have been protected for twenty years and served in the recovery of Georges Bank haddock stocks and the now famous scallop fishery that has made the City of New Bedford the top fishing revenue port in the U.S. for the past 13 years. Two important places at risk are the magical Cashes Ledge, with its dense, kelp-forested mountains and healthy surrounding ecosystem, and the Western Gulf of Maine protected area, a refuge for highly productive female cod that is a particular favorite of the recreational fishery.

With New England’s groundfish populations at historic lows and the prognosis for recovery not getting any better wouldn’t you think that any decision affecting these places—even preliminary ones—would be made with a full review of the best and most complete scientific research and data? And yet it appears the NEFMC has plans to do precisely the opposite.

Over the lengthy ten year OHA development process, the NEFMC’s technical team has attempted to compile the most critical information needed to select among about forty different alternatives for habitat protection and research areas into a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). The DEIS is a legally required, multi-volume document that will include detailed characterizations and maps of the habitat found in New England’s ocean waters. More than just a paper exercise, the DEIS holds descriptions of the specific habitats that fish use at each life stage and measures the impacts that each type of fishing gear has on the ocean environment. The DEIS also holds an estimate of the economic effect of fishing a proposed habitat area versus the value of protecting it.

This important document will guide the Council’s initial decisions and inform the public about the different alternatives for protecting habitat. In order to ensure that the Council’s choices are based on the facts, it is essential that the analysis be completed before the Council selects its preferred habitat protection alternatives.

Unfortunately, and in spite of the best efforts of the technical staff, the current DEIS is lacking analysis of the environmental impacts of 14 separate habitat alternatives and an economic impacts analysis of 20 habitat and research alternatives. How can the NEFMC ensure that its decisions are appropriate and defensible when almost half of the alternatives are lacking fundamental environmental and economic impact information? How too can the public meaningfully comment on these alternatives when they are presented with only some of the facts?

Environmental impact studies are designed to help make good decisions before the use of the American public’s natural resources, not to justify decisions after they are made. The solution here is simple. The NEFMC meets again in January and this process of selecting preferred alternatives can be dealt with then. The fate of New England’s best ocean habitat deserves a thorough approach and should avoid the risk of premature, ill-informed decisions.