New England’s Oceans: National Pride, National Treasure

John Kassel

This week, along with millions of Americans, I will cheer at a parade, join a BBQ, and watch fireworks. I will do this with my family, in a familiar place, with familiar faces, and celebrate this most American of holidays.

July 4th has always meant a great deal to me, first as an American boy growing up, and now as an American environmentalist. It is a great holiday because it is a holiday that makes us proud of what we’ve accomplished. Independence. Self reliance. Prosperity.

These values are often associated with places: when we think of America, we think of the icons of America. Yellowstone. Zion. And New England’s very own Acadia National Park. As Americans, preserving these natural treasures is among our proudest accomplishments. Our oceans should be no different. Here, in the Gulf of Maine, we have George’s Bank, Stellwagen Bank, and Cashes Ledge – a spectacular undersea mountain range – where you find steep canyons, deep kelp forests, and vibrant, charismatic marine life. Their beauty and majesty are breathtaking.

Why, then, do these special ocean places not stir us like our special places on land? I believe it’s because  we don’t see them. We don’t think of our underwater treasures as icons of America because we can’t light up our grill next to a kelp forest and watch seals swim by, like we can an eagle flying over head.

There can be no doubt that our oceans are national treasures. To help raise awareness – and to literally raise these places out of the sea and into our living rooms and offices – we have launched the New England Ocean Odyssey with National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry. The photos from this first-of-its-kind journey will show just how magnificent, and how fragile, the ocean can be. Indeed, they already have. This early collection of photos from Brian is only the beginning.

The photo of a sea star, featured above, is a bright burst of color against a dark backdrop – a firework against a night sky. The seal is part friend, part pastor, welcoming you and praying at the same time. And the image of the right whale bursts with strength. It swells with American pride.

Just as there is no doubt that our oceans are treasures, so too is there no doubt that they are being damaged. Bottom trawlers damage huge swaths of the ocean floor with their heavy chains, doors and dredges, likened by some scientists to a bulldozer scraping the delicate floor of a pristine forest. New England’s oceans are rising much faster than predicted. They are also becoming more acidic from harmful greenhouse gas emissions. Recent record increases in precipitation may even be fundamentally altering plankton production, jeopardizing the very productivity of our marine web of life.

As you celebrate Independence Day this week, and think about America’s independence, think about what makes us proud to be Americans. Think about the pride we take in our National Parks, and the foresight we had to protect them and so many other treasured landscapes. And think about how much we depend on, but how little protection we give to, our oceans.

In our increasingly interdependent world, that is pushing the limits of our ecosystems, certain renewed forms of independence would be a good thing.

Independence from fossil fuels.

Independence from unhealthy food and transportation systems.

Independence from water-polluting infrastructure of all types.

The natural independence – and security – for our children and grandchildren, that flow from creating a truly sustainable future.

And independence that comes with the pride of protecting America’s natural resources – on land and under our shining sea.

Llike so many of us, I love New England’s ocean treasures. This July 4th, stand with CLF in remembering and protecting them, so our children and grandchildren can love them too.

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