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    Ecosystem Management at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

     
         
     
    The sea is best handled by simple respect and a wide berth. ---GLOUCESTER FISHERMAN

    Time ticks away, shaping the present and future of Stellwagen Bank. We often view the sea we have inherited as a malleable and transient commodity belonging to us. We use it, often abuse it, and then move on, unaware of the legacy we leave behind. When we see the ocean as a community to which we all belong, we may begin to see it with love and respect-a treasured inheritance. ----NATHALIE WARD

    Background and definitions

    Just as the humpback whales found on Stellwagen Bank have been following their biological imperative for thousands of years-to breach, to bubble feed and to flipper slap-so too has the human animal been following its own natural inclination-to dominate and control and exploit any and all natural resources that lay before it.

    Known as "resourcism" in scientific jargon, this uniquely human impulse is defined by R. Edward Grumbine of the Sierra Institute as "the belief held by many people in modern industrial societies that the world gains value only as nature is transformed into goods and services to meet human demands."

    Fortunately, the brain of the animal highest on the food chain is also programmed to step back from time to time, reflect, learn from its mistakes, and make the changes necessary to preserve and protect the natural environment upon which all life depends, including its own.

    That's where ecosystem-based management comes in, in the minds of most environmentalists the ideal way-and perhaps the only way-in which the dominant species can hope to both use and preserve the natural resources that have no veto power over human exploitation.

    According to Grumbine, ecosystem-based management "integrates scientific knowledge of ecological relationships within a complex sociopolitical and values framework toward the general goal of protecting native ecosystem integrity over the long term."

    That's really just a fancy way of saying it's up to us to save the planet. And it is the basis for the establishment of virtually all federal and state parks, wildlife refuges, marine protected areas and marine sanctuaries.

    A little history and a few ABC's

    Gerry E. Studds-Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS) and its twelve cousins around the globe that make up the federal national marine sanctuaries program exists in large part due to the actions of concerned scientists, politicians and ordinary folk who began to question the seemingly limitless exploitation of the nation's natural environment about 30 years ago.

    In the span of about ten years, enormous strides were made in the realm of marine environmentalism, most notably the creation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in 1970, and its sub-agency, the National Ocean Service (NOS), which itself originated out of nation's oldest scientific agency, established as the Survey of the Coast in1807 by President Thomas Jefferson. In 1972, the National Marine, Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972 established a system of marine protected areas that include all thirteen national marine sanctuaries.

    The purpose of this 1972 law was to prevent "unregulated dumping of material into the oceans, coastal, and other waters" that endanger "human health, welfare, and amenities, and the marine environment, ecological systems and economic potentialities." Within this law, the transportation and dumping of radioactive, chemical, or biological substances were forbidden. Title III of the act, called the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, charged the Secretary of Commerce with identifying, designating and managing marine sites based on conservational, ecological, recreational, historical, aesthetic, scientific or educational value within significant national ocean and Great Lake waters.

    All acts, no action?

    It all sounds great on paper, but words and laws are one thing. Action and enforcement are another. Government initiatives often have the best of intentions, but the execution gets tangled up in red tape, competing interest groups, and a lot of hot air.

    It is certainly ironic that it took about the same amount of time-ten years-for the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary to travel all the way from nomination (1982) to reality (1992); that it took for the first real marine environmental initiatives to take hold nationwide: in addition to the National Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972, the Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972), Coastal Zone Management Act (1972), and the Endangered Species Act (1973) were all enacted within a few years of each other.

    The vision and the current reality at Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

    We will spare you the details, but suffice to say it has taken over many years, several published reports and plans, scores of public meetings and scoping sessions, the 19-member Sanctuary Advisory Council (SAC) , the 11-member Sanctuary staff, and twelve Working Groups comprised of over 140 individuals to bring us into the present-day at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

    Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sactuary's vision statement:

    The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is teeming with a great diversity and abundance of marine plants and animals supported by diverse, healthy habitats in clean ocean waters. The ecological integrity of the sanctuary is protected and fully restored for current and future generations. Human uses are diverse and compatible with maintaining natural and cultural resources.

    All parties are still hard at work, all with due diligence, to come up with a management plan for the 21st century that will satisfy and fulfill this vision, but there are many thorny issues and outright threats to the sanctity of that vision.

    "Policy" is for all of us: what you can do

    The word "policy" comes from the Greek word, politeia, or "citizenship." The bottom line is that the oceans belong to all of us, a public trust, and they will not survive without everyone's participation and caring.

    If you want to start small, or feel overwhelmed by the idea of it all, we suggest you make the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary your cause. To ensure your personal stake in making the sanctuary's vision statement a reality, the most important thing you can do is make an individual commitment to become an informed and active steward of the sanctuary.

    Each strategy recommends establishing protocols-and in some cases, legally binding regulations-to help mitigate the impact of so much human activity in the vicinity of whales. In evolutionary terms, the whale species of Stellwagen Bank enjoyed relative peace and quiet for thousands and thousands of years before human beings came upon the scene-first in sailing ships, then in fishing schooners, then steam-operated vessels, then in gigantic steel ships and 100-foot long whale watch boats, then in aircraft overhead, and finally, even aboard jet-skis. The result is an un underwater environment filled with noise, boat bottoms, fishing gear, even shadows from planes overhead; that present a veritable obstacle course for animals programmed to behave in certain ways for undisturbed eons.

    To propel Priority Number 3 towards the top of the list, Peter Borrelli, the Center's Executive Director from 1995 through June 2007 and a member of the SAC since 1998, made a motion at the meeting to "recommend that SBNMS consult with the appropriate agencies (NOAA Fisheries and the United States Coast Guard) to examine the options to take emergency action for speed restrictions for right whales for the 2006 season." The motion passed.

    Revisit this site for news of if and when such emergency restrictions will be implemented. Since the critically-endangered North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) migrates through the 842-square mile Sanctuary toward its summer feeding grounds in the Bay of Fundy, such measures would need to be enacted by this spring in order to have any effect.

    If you would like to correspond with Center program staff on anything to do with the sanctuary please send your e-mails call Tanya Grady at 508-487-3623, ext. 113.

    And in case you ever need to be reminded of what you're fighting for, take the time to look through our extensive and fascinating inventory of the bank's amazing collections of marine life.

    The citations at the head of this section are taken from the PCCS book, Stellwagen Bank: A Guide to the Whales, Sea Birds, and Marine Life of the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary by Nathalie Ward (1995, Down East Books).

     
     


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