On the occasion of World Oceans Day, it is worth reminding ourselves about how utterly dependent we are on the ocean – for the fish and shellfish that grace our dinner tables, for our summer recreation – on, in, and alongside our ocean – for the tremendous untapped renewable resources of the wind, waves and tides, and for transportation of people and goods. Oh yes, and the air – up to 70% of the oxygen we breathe is produced by the plankton in the ocean. That’s more than from all the world’s rain forests combined. The ocean absorbs about half of our carbon dioxide emissions and over 90% of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases. The ocean covers 70% of our planet and regulates the earth’s climate. Unfortunately the ocean is facing a host of troubles from climate change and acidification caused by all that carbon dioxide absorption, not to mention overfishing, seafloor habitat destruction and pollution – we need to be better stewards of this incredible resource.
As I walked on Crane Beach last weekend thinking about all of this, an early summer Northeaster whipped the ocean into a froth and unusually high tides threw up a wrack line of seaweed reaching as far as the wind sculpted sand dunes – leaving just a sliver of a beach. I was reminded that the ocean truly is the master and commander, and once again I felt humbled by the sea’s strength and beauty. I was also a little frustrated by it. Why? Brian Skerry, weather permitting, will go on his first ever dive to one of New England’s most special places – Cashes Ledge – this Saturday and Sunday.
Cashes Ledge, located 80 miles northeast of Gloucester, Massachusetts, is a 25-mile long underwater mountain chain that hosts one of the most unique, dynamic and ecologically productive areas in the Gulf of Maine. The highest peak, Ammen Rock, rises steeply off the ocean floor from 460 feet below to within 40 feet of the ocean’s surface. There is an unbelievable diversity of ocean wildlife in this special place: North Atlantic right whales, blue sharks, bluefin tuna, herring, cod, Atlantic wolffish, sea anemones, brittle stars, brilliantly colored sea sponges, and the deepest kelp forest in the Gulf of Maine. But most of us have never seen this underwater jewel and probably never will. Unless, that is, someone goes diving and brings back spectacular photographs.
Brian’s planned dive on Cashes is just one of the many that he will be doing as part of the New England Ocean Odyssey – our 5 year partnership to bring to light the magnificent beauty that lies beneath the surface of New England’s waves. Despite all that we know about the ocean and its role in our lives, it still holds tremendous mystery. And I am happy for some mystery in these days of ceaseless information flow coming over our personal transoms 24/7 through our computers and smart phones. There is still so much we don’t know about the ocean and so much we can’t see. So gazing out to sea on that cold windy day, I wondered about what lies beneath the surface of those wild waves. My curiosity will soon be bated – at least for one special place in the Gulf of Maine.
With any luck Brian will show us just what a magnificent place Cashes Ledge is. I say with any luck, because, well, the weather has been challenging as of late. I have been electronically tethered to the Cashes Ledge weather buoy – a remarkable device that sends hourly reports on the wind, waves, water and air temperature, atmospheric pressure – hoping it brings us good news!
At the height of this week’s Northeaster sustained wind speeds at the buoy reached 25 knots with gusts up to 35 knots. And the waves reached nearly 14 feet. Not good for diving! But the weather seems to be moderating and we are hopeful that Brian and his dive crew will make it out to Cashes this weekend. If not this weekend, he’ll get out on another. And I can’t wait to share his photographs with you! So today, on World Oceans Day, make sure you take the opportunity to thank our oceans for the mystery they still hold and for all that they do for each of us.