Conservation groups eye protection for Cashes Ledge

Courtesy photoThe Conservation Law Foundation and other groups are seeking protections for Cashes Ledge off of Gloucester, and areas off Cape Cod.

BOSTON — National groups this week plan to call for sprawling areas in off Cape Ann, Cape Cod and Rhode Island to be declared the first “marine national monument” on the Eastern Seaboard.

A January 2009 presidential proclamation established three Pacific Marine National Monuments — the Marianas Trench, Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll, which is on the Samoan archipelago 2,500 miles south of Hawaii and is the southernmost point belonging to the United States.

Now the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and partners such as the National Geographic Society, Pew Charitable Trusts and the Natural Resources Defense Council are seeking protections for the Cashes Ledge Closed Area, about 80 miles due east of Gloucester in the Gulf of Maine, and the New England Canyons and Seamounts off Cape Cod — areas CLF describes as “deep sea treasures.”

A CLF official told the News Service on Monday that the Cashes Ledge area covers 530 square nautical miles in the Gulf of Maine, and the New England Canyons and Seamounts encompasses 4,117 square nautical miles, for a total of 4,647 square nautical miles of protected areas.

The designation, according to CLF press secretary Josh Block, “ensures that this area remains permanently protected from harmful commercial extraction, such as oil and gas drilling, commercial fishing and other resource exploration activities.”

According to CLF, the areas are “unique, biodiverse habitats featuring a wide array of endangered species, breathtaking natural scenery and the largest cold-water kelp forest on the Atlantic Coast.”

Regional fisheries management councils voted in April to temporarily extend protections to the areas, Block said, and the monument designation would make the protections permanent.

“Attaining a monument designation ensures that this area remains permanently protected from harmful commercial extraction, such as oil and gas drilling, commercial fishing and other resource exploration activities,” Block said in an email to the News Service. “This allows the many endangered species that comprise this unique food web to flourish and ensures that the area, which has been virtually free from human interference, remains a valuable open-sea laboratory for groundbreaking research on the impacts of climate change.”

The habitat protections for the Gulf of Maine would most acutely impact the inshore groundfish fleet, which once pulled hauls of cod, pollock, and other groundfish from Cashes Ledge. The area was closed to fishing about 12 years ago in effort to bolster the dwindling fish stocks.

The New England Canyons and Seamounts are located about 150 miles off the coast of southern New England, “where the continental shelf drops off into the ocean abyss,” according to CLF, which says the canyons “plunge thousands of feet deep, some deeper than the Grand Canyon, and the seamounts rise as high as 7,000 feet above the seafloor, higher than any mountain east of the Rockies.”

After a cocktail reception, National Geographic photojournalist Brian Skerry will show footage of the area at the IMAX Theater and lead a 6:15 p.m. talk Wednesday with marine scientists at the New England Aquarium in Boston. Organizers say the event is “at capacity” and closed to the public.

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