Five Questions for: Dr. Sylvia Earle

Dec 11, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Sylvia dives at Cashes Ledge. Photo:Kip Evans/Mission Blue

Sylvia dives at Cashes Ledge. Photo:Kip Evans/Mission Blue

In August, Dr. Sylvia Earle, world-renowned conservationist, oceanographer, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, and founder/chairman of Sylvia Earle Alliance/Mission Blue, launched a dive expedition to Cashes Ledge, the underwater mountain range 80 miles off the coasts of Portland. Dr. Earle joined the expedition to amplify the efforts of CLF and Mission Blue, as well as scientists, business leaders, environmental groups, and faith leaders, in calling for the White House to declare Cashes Ledge a Marine National Monument.

1. What was it like to dive on Cashes Ledge?
Diving on Cashes Ledge was an experience of a lifetime, in a lifetime of amazing underwater experiences. I saw for myself what scientists have been raving about for years – a miraculous mountain peak that comes close enough to sunlight to be crowned with a thriving forest of kelp and a richly diverse assemblage of coastal marine life in the open sea.

2. What most surprised you about your experience?
It’s so unlikely to have kelp growing out in the open ocean 80 miles from shore. Instead of blowing in the wind, the kelp blows in the currents. I felt like a dancer with these golden silken scarves surrounding me. Fish swam by, found our eyes, and just looked at us. You could almost see the wheels turning in their minds asking, “What are you doing here?” I thought I went down to look at the fish but the fish were looking at me!

3. Why have you declared Cashes Ledge one of your Hope Spots?
Cashes Ledge is the Yellowstone of the North Atlantic. It’s an amazing gathering of fish and other wildlife that wasn’t known outside the fishing community until recent years, when divers and scientists began exploring and documenting the nature of this glorious, golden forest. It’s a place that is a natural for permanent protection – full and enduring protection. That’s what a Hope Spot is about. We look at unique areas, special places that harbor diverse forms of life, and seek to protect them for renewal and survival. Taking care of Cashes Ledge is a symbol of hope – not just hope for the fish, but for us, too.

Dr. Earle dives on Cashes Ledge for the first time. Video: Kip Evans/Mission Blue

4. What do you wish more people understood about the world’s oceans?

Life itself depends on the ocean – and most of life on Earth is under the ocean’s surface. Look at the Earth from outer space – it’s mostly blue. There’s a lot of talk these days about the green movement, but if there’s no blue, there won’t be any green. We have to care for the ocean as if our lives depend on it, because they in fact do.

5. What makes you optimistic about the future of our oceans?
Historically we have thought of the ocean as a place to extract things – fish, oil, gas. But now we know that all life depends on taking care of the ocean. The most important thing we extract from the sea is our very existence. Today, we have a chance with the blue United States to give back to the ocean that gives us so much. Taking positive action to protect the ocean and restore its health is an idea whose time has come.

Why Paris Talks Must Include a Plan for the World’s Oceans

Dec 4, 2015 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A cunner swims through healthy kelp forest at Cashes Ledge

Protection for our oceans must be part of an international climate agreement. Photo: Brian Skerry

It is Oceans Day at the COP21 talks, with thought leaders from the U.S. and from around the world highlighting the devastating impacts of climate change on the world’s oceans. Leader after leader touts the linkage between climate change, fisheries, food security, and (in the case of island nations that will be submerged by sea-level rise) national survival. The U.S. State Department’s Undersecretary Catherine A. Novelli has been eloquent on these points.

Island developing states, in particular, make the compelling case that climate change already is devastating their economies, increasing debt burdens linked to sea level rise, storm recovery, and ocean acidification. Impressively, many of these small island developing states are leading the effort to conserve their marine resources, which in most cases comprise the lion’s share of of the natural capital available to sustain their economies.

Despite or because of climate threats, many small island states have recognized that marine protected areas (MPAs) with no-take zones are essential to the long-term health of their economies. Pulau proudly boasts here that 80 percent of its exclusive economic zone is an MPA. Easter Island has an MPA of a million square kilometers. These boasts come with scientific confidence that, by providing safe habitat to foster recovery of species stressed by climate change, the remaining waters open to fishing will be more robustly productive both for fishermen and for the larger economy.

The View from New England
The Paris talks are a poignant reminder that, while less developed nations like Pulau, Seychelles, and Indonesia clearly understand – and have acted on – the importance of MPAs for the long-term survival of commercial fisheries and marine biodiversity against the impacts of climate change, New England’s fishermen and regulators have yet to buy in.

For years, Conservation Law Foundation has advocated for permanent protection of a miniscule but biologically important area of the Gulf of Maine, which is warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans. This can be done by creating the United States’ first marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean, comprised of biodiversity hot spots at Cashes Ledge and nearby Coral Canyons and Seamounts.

Last summer, renowned oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle joined a CLF dive on Cashes Ledge, a fragile underwater mountain range located just 80 miles off the coast of New England. Dr. Earle, who has dived on some the world’s most remarkable ocean places, found herself in awe at what she found on Cashes Ledge, declaring it “the Yellowstone of the Atlantic,” and marveling at the “glorious, golden forest” of kelp that covered its underwater peaks. After experiencing this special place for herself, she joined CLF’s call for President Obama to use his authority to protect these areas permanently by designating them marine national monuments.

But the president has yet to act, despite the lack of dispute on the scientific merit of protecting these areas, and many elected officials have bowed to short-term interests of fishermen rather than supporting the steps needed to protect the long-term sustainability of fisheries increasingly stressed by ocean acidification and rising ocean temperatures.

Here in Paris, during these critical climate talks, world leaders must act on the fact that climate change places the natural capital, the economic prosperity, and the vital communities dependent on ocean resources in immediate peril. And yet, on this putative “Oceans Day,” word has come that those at the negotiating table have, as in past climate negotiations, have removed critical ocean protections from the anticipated agreement. We cannot let this happen.

Of course, no agreement that emerges from Paris will dictate country-specific MPAs, but an international climate agreement must support and compel action to address the impacts climate change is having on our oceans. If it does, MPAs will inevitably follow the science.

At home, New England states and the Obama administration, which have led the nation and the world on so many aspects of climate and energy policy, cannot afford to end their leadership at the water’s edge. In this area, at least, Pulau is ahead of us.

Read more from CLF advocates about how what happens in Paris will impact what needs to happen here in New England to cut carbon, boost renewables, and protect our communities.

CLF President Brad Campbell is on the ground in Paris reporting from COP21. Follow his updates on Twitter.

Business As Usual Meets the New Normal: Climate Change and Fisheries Management

Mar 26, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

What if a hurricane with the lowest low-pressure readings ever seen in human history was barreling toward the East Coast and all we did was debate if it was a category 4 or 5? John Bullard, regional director for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in New England, used that metaphor recently to describe how we are coping with the enormous transformations that are happening in our ocean right now from climate change.

He used this attention-getter at the overdue multi-agency session in Washington, DC, last week, the purpose of which was to consider the implications of climate change for fisheries management along the U.S. Atlantic coast. This meeting was overdue in that climate change impacts are already being observed by fishermen and scientists alike, and adjusting to our new “normal” will not be easy and will take time.

For New England, the challenge is stark. The Gulf of Maine is one of the most rapidly heating bodies of water on the Atlantic Coast, if not in the US. These temperature changes are sending the sea life off to seek their comfort zone – according to NMFS, 24 of 36 stocks evaluated seem to be moving north or away from coastal waters. To make matters worse, our ocean is also acidifying at increasingly alarming rates. This can cause major problems for shell-forming animals such as scallops and lobsters – the animals that much of our fishing economy depend on. Unfortunately, there has been little economic analysis about the implications of this issue yet.


Lobsters are just one of the species under threat from warming oceans.

Former fish czar Eric Schwaab also spoke at the climate change workshop, noting that the climate is likely changing faster than the fisheries governance structure. Sadly, New England’s fisheries managers have not particularly distinguished themselves in the first 30 years of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, even with a relatively stable ecosystem. Yes, I know there is no such thing as a “stable ecosystem” but it will likely seem like one compared to future manifestations. Now the natural variability will be happening within an ecosystem that is rapidly changing itself.

Bullard drove this home by saying that the current climate-changing 400 parts-per-million levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have never been experienced by mankind, let alone New England fishermen. He then made the obvious point that nothing in our oceans will ever be “normal” again, even though, right now, everyone is acting as if it will be. As if that huge hurricane heading our way will just be going out to sea.

Current examples of the effects of climate abound and were noted by various speakers: black sea bass in NH lobster traps, green crabs taking over the Maine coast, more summer flounder summering more in New England than ever before, no northern shrimp fishery to be found, and the looming end of the southern New England lobster fishery.

I’ve seen it myself, with the glut of longfin squid hanging out on the Massachusetts north shore the last two summers. While we can hope that these changes will be gradual and that an incremental approach will suffice, many ecologists suggest that the “state changes” could be rapid, extensive, and irreversible. Moreover, some New England fishermen who imagine that they will soon being fishing on Mid-Atlantic fish stocks may have forgotten that most of those fish are already in limited access fisheries and have been allocated to others.

Bullard put his finger on what is needed at such a critical pivotal moment: leadership. In his words (loosely transcribed), leadership requires responding to a threat with actions commensurate to the size of the threat even if everyone around you is acting like the threat doesn’t exist.

Amen. While it is hard to put aside my cynicism about the likelihood that this Rube Goldberg fisheries management system – Dr. Mike Orbach’s metaphor here at the meeting – is up to the task, the challenge is clear and the stakes could not be higher for fishermen and fishing communities up and down the Atlantic coast.

In the end, Bullard’s message seemed to me to fall largely on deaf ears at the workshop, with much of the to-do discussion focused on managing at the margin and improved coordination between the New England and mid-Atlantic councils. In other words, business as usual. The leadership to respond to the dramatic shifts in our marine ecosystems due to climate change was not yet evident at the workshop.

But there is hope for the future. While many of these forces of nature are likely beyond our control even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases altogether, we can prepare for changes and increase resiliency by rebuilding as many fish populations as we can and protecting habitat. Dynamic, integrated management will help our fisheries, ecosystems, and communities respond to the realities of a new normal.

Maine Legislature Takes First Step Towards Averting Disastrous Impacts of Ocean Acidification

Mar 12, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Maine’s legislature is taking early steps to address increasingly acidic ocean waters in the Gulf of Maine that threaten the state’s shellfisheries and marine ecosystem.

The Gulf of Maine has become increasingly more acidic as CO2 emissions from industrial sources and vehicles get deposited in the water, where the carbon mixes to form carbonic acid. This problem is aggravated by polluted stormwater runoff.  The more acidic seawater has been shown to dissolve juvenile clam shells, and larvae are avoiding the most acidic mudflats. Studies predict that the increasing acidity, if left unchecked, will also stunt the growth of lobsters, and cause them to develop thicker shells. Oyster production is also expected to drop dramatically.

Maine is more dependent on its marine resources for its economic health than any other state in the Northeast. Nearly 6,000 active harvesters work in our lobster and clam fisheries alone, while hundreds of other industries and communities support, and depend on, this vital source of revenue and livelihoods.

Last week, the Maine Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee took a giant first step towards addressing the problem when it voted unanimously to send a bill that authorizes a study of the issue to the house floor. The bill, introduced by Representative Mick Devin, would establish a 16-member panel to identify what further study is needed and what legislation can be introduced in the 2015 legislative session to address ocean acidification. The bill starts a critical process designed to counteract ocean acidification now, rather than waiting until it has rotted away our shellfish industry and irrevocably changed the fish that can survive in our waters.

CLF strongly supports this first but significant step in averting this potential economic and environmental crisis. We joined with other organizations and fishing interests to help ensure positive support for Representative Devin’s bill in the Marine Resources Committee. In the near future, the bill will go to the floor for a vote by the full legislature. Please contact your legislators and let them know of your support for this important bill. If you want to learn more, post a comment or email

CLF’s Most Read Blog Posts for 2013

Jan 2, 2014 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Mark Your Calendars: Ocean Awareness Week is Coming to NH’s Seacoast!

Sep 25, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Here at Conservation Law Foundation, we would like every week to be Ocean Awareness Week. So, when our friends at the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, New Hampshire and The Music Hall in Portsmouth told us that they were planning a week of local activities and events dedicated to everything ocean this October, we were all over it. CLF is very proud to sponsor the first annual Ocean Awareness Week, alongside The Music Hall, the Seacoast Science Center, Gundalow Company and Kent Stephens’ Stage Force.


Photos from Brian Skerry, including this one, will be on display at the Seacost Science Center during Ocean Awareness Week.

Ocean Awareness Week aims to bring attention to the importance of healthy oceans with a particular focus on the Gulf of Maine and the role of arts and culture in promoting sustainability. CLF has long been a leader in protecting the Gulf of Maine and its coastal treasures like the Great Bay estuary. CLF’s New England Ocean Odyssey campaign, which aims to engage New Englanders in caring for their oceans and coasts through photography, is a perfect fit with Ocean Awareness Week’s focus on art to promote ocean and coastal awareness.

Ocean Awareness Week kicks off at the Seacoast Science Center on Sunday, October 6 with two screenings of the film, Ocean Frontiers at 11 AM and 2PM. Produced by Karen Meyers, Ocean Frontiers shows how the many users of the ocean, from fishermen to shippers to farmers, are solving challenging problems affecting our busy oceans by working together. The film tells fascinating stories of the innovative solutions that these stakeholders have created out of shared concern for the future of one of our most precious of natural resources. Following each screening, Seacoast Science Center President, Wendy Lull, and CLF’s Director of Ocean Conservation, Dr. Priscilla Brooks, will host a question and answer session for attendees.

Meanwhile, Seacoast Science Center visitors can get a close up look at the amazing wildlife that lives in New England’s ocean through the lens of renowned underwater photographer, Brian Skerry. Skerry, a New England native whose arresting photographs have graced the pages (and many covers!) of National Geographic magazine, has partnered with CLF to bring attention to the mysteries of New England’s ocean through the New England Ocean Odyssey, A Journey Beneath New England’s Waves. For the first time at the Center, Skerry’s exclusive photographs for CLF will be displayed together, revealing surprising facets of ocean life that cement our bond with these remote creatures and reinforce our will to protect their home.

Skerry’s photos will be displayed alongside the work of several other local photographers who love diving in New England’s ocean and sharing what they see in her murky depths. The works chosen for the exhibit are winners of New England Ocean Odyssey’s monthly photo contest, which Skerry helps to judge. The New England Ocean Odyssey photo exhibit will run through December. Visitors to the Center can pick up free postcards of Skerry’s photographs and other CLF literature.

Later in the week, CLF will take more of Skerry’s photos on the road to several Ocean Awareness Week events. Our traveling team of New England ocean and coastal experts will be on hand to talk about CLF’s work and answer questions at the following events and locations:

  • Wednesday, October 9 from 4:30-6:30 PM, Gundalow Company VIP Boat Cruise

The Dock at Prescott Park, at the end of Water Street, Portsmouth

CLF’s new Great-Bay Piscataqua Waterkeeper, Jeff Barnum, will be a featured speaker on this educational outing aboard the Piscataqua about the Gulf of Maine and our marine ecosystem. The cruise is free for VIP Reception Ticket holders. Space is limited. For reservations call Gundalow Company at 603-433-9505.

  • Saturday, October 12 at The Music Hall Historic Theater

4PM: Nationally recognized storyteller Jay O’Callahan performs the story of Richard Wheeler’s epic kayak journey tracing the path of the now extinct sea bird, The Great Auk.

5PM: Portsmouth Ocean Prize ceremony honoring Richard Wheeler

6:15 PM: VIP reception at The Loft at the Music Hall

Open to VIP seating and reception ticket holders.

Tickets to all Music Hall events may be purchased online at The Music Hall website. Prices vary. View the full itinerary of events and pricing.

Our Ocean Awareness Week team includes, in addition to Dr. Brooks:

Tom Irwin, Director of CLF New Hampshire
Robin Just, Ocean Communications Associate
Leah Fine, Ocean Program Assistant
Jeff Barnum, CLF’s Great Bay-Piscataqua Waterkeeper

We hope you’ll come visit with us as you enjoy Ocean Awareness Week!

The National Ocean Policy Turns Two Years Old

Jul 18, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

America’s oceans and coasts are amazing resources that have benefited our economy, our culture and our way of life for centuries. In New England our ocean and coasts are also home to some of the country’s most unique and valuable wildlife areas and serve as refuge for endangered wildlife species. At the same time, New England’s coastal communities continue to depend on the resources, tourism and outstanding quality of life that our ocean and coasts provide.

Our oceans and coasts face great challenges, and these challenges are growing tougher. As my cool surfing colleague Robin Just has noted, sea levels are rising 3 to 4 times faster along the east coast than the global average, according a new study by the United States Geological Survey. The rising waters put us at unique risk from the changes that are happening to our ocean and will “increase the vulnerability of coastal cities to flooding, and beaches and wetlands to deterioration,” according to the report. How will we solve these challenges?

Thanks to the National Ocean Policy, we have a better way to make management decisions and to create solutions by using the best data, latest information and, most importantly, by working together. At its core, the National Ocean Policy directs federal agencies to coordinate management activities, implement a science-based system of decision making, support safe and sustainable access and ocean uses, respect cultural practices and maritime heritage, and increase scientific understanding of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems. Regional Ocean Planning, a science-based process of improving decisions about ocean resources before conflict arises, involves everyone who has a stake in ocean management, including towns and cities, scientists, fishermen, conservation groups, recreational users, and businesses. Through better planning, the National Ocean Policy will allow us to take full advantage of our resources in a sustainable manner which will improve the health of the United States environment and economy.

The National Ocean Policy turns two years old on July 19, and while the National Ocean Council is making great strides, so much more is necessary to ensure that we are using this important tool to tackle these great challenges. Given how important fisheries, coastal tourism and other ocean industries are to our region’s economy and way of life, we need New England’s governors and federal officials to support the full implementation of the National Ocean Policy.


This Week on – June 29-July 6

Jul 6, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

July 3 – Local Summer Fisheries – Dogfish – This second installment in the Local Summer Fisheries series is about Dogfish, a small and relatively underutilized shark species that migrates up the New England coast each summer.

July 6 – Fish Talk in the News – Friday, July 6 – This week in Fish Talk in the News: early shedding leads to historically low lobster prices; a great video about mercury in the environment and in seafood; the World Wildlife Fund releases their plan to create a Financial Institution for the Recovery of Marine Ecosystems; author and historian H. Bruce Franklin of Rutgers University discusses the importance of menhaden in an interview about his book, The Most Important Fish in the Sea; UMass Dartmouth receives a grant to fund groundfish stock assessment research; and scientists are mapping the ocean floor 15 miles off the Maine coast.

No New Drilling in New England

Nov 10, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Fire Boats Attempt to Control Fire on BP's Deepwater Horizon

Earlier this week Secretary Salazar announced the Department of the Interior’s five-year proposal for oil and gas leases in our nation’s oceans. Much to the relief of New England’s fishermen, beachgoers, and coastal businesses, the Obama Administration’s proposal keeps the oil industry out of New England’s ocean and the rest of the Atlantic coast. CLF has long opposed oil drilling off of New England’s coasts and joined with the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association to block drilling 30 years ago when test wells were being drilled on the rich fishing grounds of Georges Bank.

CLF opposes offshore drilling for the very simple reason that a healthy, thriving ocean free of oil spills is worth far more to our region than the oil that potentially lies beneath the waves. From fishing to recreation to coastal tourism, a healthy ocean contributes more than $17.5 billion to our economy every year.

Just over a year ago, we watched in horror as the BP Deepwater Horizon rig burst into flames, unleashing what would become the nation’s greatest environmental disaster. But for the efforts of CLF, our allies in the fishing industry and environmental community and champions such as Congressman Ed Markey, that oil could very well have been washing up on the beaches of Cape Cod’s National Seashore or on the rocky coasts of Maine.

The fact is that unless we get permanent protection for our ocean and coasts oil drilling off of New England’s coasts remains a real threat. Congress has failed to reauthorize a congressional moratorium on drilling on Georges Bank introduced by Congressman Ed Markey, and earlier this summer the House passed legislation that could require drilling off of New England’s coast and in other sensitive areas around the nation.

Given the importance of the ocean to New England’s economy and last summer’s stark example of the danger drilling poses to jobs, the economy, our beaches, wildlife and our quality of life you would think that New England’s representatives to Congress would oppose such legislation, and many did. Unfortunately Representatives Charlie Bass and Frank Guinta, both of New Hampshire, supported the House legislation which passed. Most of New England’s Republican Senators, Brown of Massachusetts, Ayotte of New Hampshire and Collins of Maine all supported similar legislation in the Senate. Senator Snowe of Maine joined all of New England’s Democratic Senators to reject the drilling requirement. Fortunately, this time, the Senate voted down this legislation.

Yesterday’s decision by President Obama and Interior Secretary Salazar to keep New England’s ocean and coastal economy oil rig free should be applauded as the important step forward that it is. However, New England’s ocean is far too important to our lives and our economy to face such constant threats. It is time for Senators Brown, Ayotte and Collins as well as Representatives Bass and Guinta to stand with the rest of New England’s delegation and support permanent protection from drilling off of New England’s coast. If your Representative or Senator is on that list, you can contact them by calling the Congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121.