Kelp picture by Brian Skerry

Kelp Forest captured by Brian Skerry

Cashes Ledge is located 80 miles Southeast of Portland, ME just past the fishing grounds of George’s Bank.  Over the past several decades scientists have used this unique area as an untainted marine laboratory as it is home to a wealth of biodiversity. Cashes Ledge is comprised of underwater mountains and plateaus that form deep sea basins and provide habitat for thousands of species.  This unique area is comprised of deep water mud flats, rich in nutrients, to rocky outcrops, and biodiverse plateaus.  Ammen Rock is the highest point of Cashes, just 40 feet from the surface.  The largest and deepest kelp forest in all of New England is found at Ammen Rock.  It has been described as an endless expanse of green kelp, nearly 7 or 8 feet tall that closely resembles the kelp forests of California.  The diversity of terrain alone has allowed marine species of all sorts to call Cashes home.

The steep slopes of Cashes ledge, accompanied by deep ocean basins, force deep ocean current up the rocky walls and sweep around Ammen rock.  The phenomenon of deep sea currents bring up nutrients from decaying water and mixing with the top Oxygen rich water is known as an upwelling. Upwellings are incredibly important to the health of the ocean ecosystem as a whole, because they are responsible for creating biodiversity hot spots.  These hotspots, especially in the modern age, serve as places where marine life can thrive and recover their population.  At Cashes Ledge it remains the only place in the North Atlantic where Northern Right Whales, dolphins, seals, sharks, large schooling fish, rare wolfish, cod and Pollock come together and inhabit the same area.  Deep sea corals and delicate underwater gardens adorn the walls of rocky outcrops on cashes.  It is amazing how these brightly colored deep sea corals are able to survive when they are so far away from sunlight, a unique adaption.  These corals provide homes for both microscopic life and larger invertebrates and crustaceans.  Much research has been done to track the species in the area, and determine how many there are.  Nearly every expedition results in a new species being discovered, so far over 300 new deep sea creatures have been discovered.  Researchers attest that Cashes is the only place left in possibly the entire N. Atlantic where such large schools of robust Pollock and Cod reside.  The combination of its mixing of species, large schools of Pollock and Cod, and unusual beauty make Cashes a rare national treasure, and the only glimpse of what the entire Gulf of Maine used to look like.

Currently, Cashes ledge is only semi-protected from the fishing industry. Bottom trawling is prohibited, but ships with trawls hundreds of feet wide are still legally able to fish.  Most of the schooling fish are in the middle ocean layer, so the current laws do not adequately maintain fish populations.  In addition a fishing committee votes every five years if they want to keep the restrictions on Cashes, or open it to industrial desires.  Currently, not only is the fishing of rare fish populations a problem, but scientists want to ensure that no mining or drilling takes place on Cashes because it would drastically change the pristine ecosystem.

Red Cod and Cunner - Brian Skerry

Red Cod and Cunner

Scientific evidence suggests that if Cashes were to be permanently protected it would create a sustainable population of Cod and their important fish.  These fish do not know where the legal boundaries are, which results in spillover of these populations into areas where they can be harvested.  However, without protecting Cashes – their refuge- these animals could go extinct in our lifetime.   The fishing industry is an innate part of New England’s culture, as it is weaved into its history and has defined how some New Englanders live for generations.  However, the Cod is running out.  If we give them nowhere to go and reproduce, in order to continue its population, there will come a day when the Cod is nonexistent.  Local and national organizations, including National Geographic and the New England Aquarium, are pushing to make Cashes permanently protected.  Many fisherman, locals, and the public are in support of permanent protection.  However, Massachusetts commercial fisheries deny that there is a problem with the current protections.  Thus far the Atlantic Ocean has zero protections, while the government rushes to protect nearly 500,000 square miles of Pacific Ocean and 347.7 square acres of U.S. land protected.  New Englanders are only asking for 550 square miles of Atlantic Ocean to be protected, so that the economy and culture can continue to thrive on the bounty of the Atlantic for generations to come.