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September 24, 2015

SEA Supports New England Ocean Protections

Anne Broache, communications@sea.edu

SEA Semester

The New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts Area is home to diverse species of corals, such as this colony of bamboo coral observed on Mytilus Seamount by scientists with the NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program. (Photo credit: NOAA)

For the past 45 years, Sea Education Association (SEA) has worked to develop the next generations of ocean stewards, scholars, and leaders. On undergraduate SEA Semester voyages around the globe, we encourage our students not only to study the science under the surface, but also to understand the nuances of historic and cultural relationships between coastal communities and their local waters. 

Safeguarding the health of our oceans for future generations is no simple matter, but we view smart policymaking as a key tool for preserving their rich heritages and regional identities. For example, in our Marine Biodiversity & Conservation program each spring, we have asked our students to devise recommendations for protecting the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic Ocean that may inform real-world plans.

Our latest foray into marine policy involves an ongoing debate near our own marine “backyard:” whether to grant permanent, holistic protections to the Cashes Ledge in the Gulf of Maine and the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts Area along the southern New England coast.

Both areas represent striking examples of what a healthy ocean should look like. They host living seabeds covered in rare and vibrant cold-water corals or thriving kelp forests; schools of iconic New England fish like cod and halibut; and regular visits by a variety of whales, sea birds, sea turtles, sharks, tuna, and swordfish.

A combination of partial fishing restrictions and natural protective features has kept these special places remarkably free from human disturbance to date, but renewed pressures to fish, drill, and mine put these habitats at risk.

In a recent letter, our president, Peg Brandon, declared SEA’s support for the establishment of a Marine National Monument covering these areas. A National Marine Monument is a presidentially-proclaimed type of Marine Protected Area (MPA) that enjoys a variety of special protections, depending on the particular location. Several regions of the Pacific Ocean, including the Marianas Trench, already have this title, but no Atlantic regions in the United States are fully protected from commercial resource extraction. 

Educating Future Ocean Leaders

The complex MPA policymaking process, with its abundance of different stakeholders and opinions, is providing an important learning experience for current SEA Semester students. This contemporary case study adds a new dimension to their coursework on shore and, starting later this month, at sea on our sailing research vessels.

Faculty and students from our early fall classes, The Global Ocean Europe and Sustainability in Polynesian Island Cultures & Ecosystems, recently took a field trip to the New England Aquarium in Boston to attend a public forum on permanent legal protections for the two marine areas. 

SEA faculty member Dr. Mark Long’s Conservation & Management class “is using this issue to dig more deeply into the policy process, and the opportunity to watch it unfold in real time is invaluable,” he said. “The trip to the Aquarium is but one piece of a much larger puzzle that my students working to fit together this semester.”

Supporting A Healthy Ocean

Wild ocean environments like Cashes Ledge and the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts have long served as living laboratories for scientific discovery and education for our students, educators, and scientists.

Dr. Jeff Schell, a SEA Semester associate professor of oceanography, noted that substantial scientific evidence shows MPAs support the growth of fish populations—not only within their borders but also in surrounding waters.

“This spillover effect is well documented,” Schell said at the recent public forum. “MPAs are recognized worldwide as hot spots of biological diversity that contribute to the overall health, productivity, and resilience of the entire region; and in the long term, stand to support coastal economies and maintain traditional livelihoods that our students come to appreciate and admire.”

Learn more about the efforts underway to protect Cashes Ledge and the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts Area. 

Categories: News, • Topics: s262  c262  environmental policy • (0) Comments

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