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Ask Joe: All About Habitat
By Arden Miller, CZM
During the time you've been involved in coastal issues, what's the most significant thing that's happened in terms of impact on ocean habitats overall? Locally?
In an overall way, the most significant change has been in awareness—people around the world are much more aware of how things impact the ocean today than they were 20 years ago. Locally, with the passage of the 200 Mile Limit Law (also known as the Magnuson Stevens Act) in 1976, the U.S. was given jurisdiction over fisheries within 200 miles of the coast, which changed things dramatically for fishermen by excluding non-U.S. fishermen from fishing in these areas. And then, if you want to talk really local, moving the sewage outfall pipe from Boston Harbor to Deer Island and cleaning up the Boston Harbor has had a huge, positive impact on the overall health of marine habitats.
What environmental situations that affect marine habitats do you foresee becoming headline news in the next 10 years?
One that is just coming to the forefront right now is noise in the ocean. Between motorized vessels, dredging, laying oil pipelines, steam ships, turbo-powered boats, and all of the explosions and sonar activity—both military and commercial—an octopus's garden can be a pretty noisy place! Until the modern age, this wasn't the case and we're just starting to really study just how much of an issue it is. A second issue is the endocrine disruptors. Between people and animals, sewage and runoff, chemically produced hormones are ending up in our waters. The hundreds of new chemicals that have come about to make our lives healthier, wealthier, and better are big unknowns as far as the future goes. We know they're getting into the oceans, but the cumulative effects probably won't be known for years to come.
Where, in your opinion, is the most pristine marine habitat?
That's a hard one. If we're talking about the Earth, I'd say areas such as the Abyssal Plain and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge; these are areas so deep that man isn't able to explore or exploit them, so there are no traces of intervention. Within New England, the Sea Mounts (off the continental shelf) are probably the most unsullied area. But if we're talking about Massachusetts, well, we've been making a mark around here since the days of the Vikings! If I had to pick a place within our waters, though, I would say Halfway Rock, between Gloucester and Boston, outside of Salem Sound, is among the most pristine areas.
What do you think of the broadcast of "reality TV" for lobsters* ? Is this a trend that will impact ocean habitats for other forms of marine life?
I love it! I can't wait until it comes to my cable line up! We know so little about the lives of lobsters and this greatly broadens our knowledge. Even the little incremental increases in what we know, like where they meet to mate, help us know their habits and, ultimately, know how to put more of them onto the dinner table! (In a way that promotes the most sustained management of the species, of course.) As for other sea life, we've been learning about whales and seals by putting devices on them that allow us to monitor the pressure, temperature, and depths of their travels. In the future, this kind of monitoring will only increase as our technological abilities develop further.
Lastly, what is your personal favorite habitat?
That's an easy one: the rocky outcrops in Salem Harbor—that's where I get my lobster dinners! (n.b.: Joe is a licensed non-commercial lobster permit holder who collects his dinner donning scuba gear.)
*Lobster Trap Video (LTV) documents the lives of lobsters via video recorders. To view, go to: http://www.lobsters.unh.edu/LTV/LTV.HTM.