International Efforts to Protect Marine Biodiversity through Marine Wilderness Preservation in the Northwest Atlantic (New England). (Marine Matters)

Article excerpt

Abstract

Currently, marine diversity on the continental shelf in the Gulf of Maine has minimal protection from commercial activities. Last year, numerous environmental organizations, scientists, and other concerned citizens proposed a 20 by 178 nautical-mile marine protected area in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank ("Gulf of Maine") along the United States-Canadian international boundary (the "Hague line") to protect marine diversity. The marine protected area, the Gulf of Maine International Ocean Wilderness ("International Ocean Wilderness"), would straddle the Hague line -- ten miles on each side -- as it passes through the Gulf of Maine. The International Ocean Wilderness would include large portions of the five major habitat types that are representative of the Gulf of Maine and protect these areas from extractive fishing and non-fishing industrial activities. If designated, the International Ocean Wilderness would comprise only 6.2% of the total area in the Gulf of Maine, leaving most of it open to existing industrial activities. The International Ocean Wilderness would serve four principal functions: (1) preserving marine diversity; (2) preserving large areas of the five major habitat types; (3) protecting cultural and historical artifacts; and (4) providing control areas for future benthic ecological study. The International Ocean Wilderness would also provide the following incidental benefits: (1) enhancing important benthic fisheries, notably the scallop fishery, by leaving a subpopulation to grow to advanced adult ages at which egg production is much greater than by adults at average time of harvest in the present fishery; (2) protecting sensitive essential fish habitats from the effects of bottom-tending mobile gears; (3) providing a precautionary buffer from the effects of overfishing; and (4) providing a buffer zone along the Hague line to facilitate enforcement of this international boundary.

Introduction

In 2000, numerous regional and national environmental organizations, scientists, and other concerned citizens petitioned the Clinton Administration in the United States and the Canadian Prime Minister to designate an international, cross-shelf ocean wilderness area in the Gulf of Maine to protect marine diversity. The proposed ocean wilderness area, the Gulf of Maine International Ocean Wilderness Area (GOMIOW), would start approximately 20 nautical miles from the northeasternmost point on the Maine coast and extend 178 nautical miles along the political boundary separating the US and Canadian Exclusive Economic Zones ("the Hague Line"), across the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank, and out to the continental abyssal plain to depths greater than 4,000 meters. As a cross-shelf marine wilderness area, the GOMIOW would encompass representative portions of the five major habitat types found in the Gulf of Maine, including: (1) shallow-water glacial ridges; (2) deep-water basins within the Gulf of Maine; (3) shallow-water gravel and sand habitats on Georges Bank; (4) deep-sea canyons off Georges Bank; and (5) the continental abyssal plain.

The proponents claimed that the GOMIOW would serve three principal functions: (1) preserving marine diversity; (2) preserving large areas of the five major habitat types in the Gulf of Maine; and (3) providing control areas for future benthic ecological study. The GOMIOW would also provide the following incidental benefits: (1) enhancing important benthic fisheries, notably the scallop fishery, by leaving a subpopulation to grow to advanced adult ages that produce more eggs than adults in the present fishery; (2) protecting sensitive essential fish habitats (EFH) from the effects of bottom-tending mobile gears; (3) acting as a precautionary buffer against the effects of fishing and other commercial activities; and (4) providing a buffer zone along the Hague line to facilitate enforcement of this international boundary.

There are many examples of international transboundary protected areas on land (Zbicz and Green 1997), including five between the US and Canada, but in the marine environment, this conservation approach rarely has been tried. …