Twenty Years of Science and Conservation in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

July 16, 2012

Happy Birthday to New England’s only national marine sanctuary. Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year. In honor of the milestone, here’s a little marine sanctuary trivia:

  • There are just 14 national marine protected areas and yet they cover more than 150,000 square miles, or 96 million acres, of ocean. That’s 3.5% of US waters, and a larger area than is protected by all 58 land-based national parks combined. At 842 square miles, Stellwagen Bank is a mid-sized marine protected area.
  • Stellwagen Bank was originally named for Henry S. Stellwagen, the Navy lieutenant who first mapped the underwater plateau back in the mid-1850s. But the sanctuary was renamed to also incorporate the name of a former Congressman, Gerry E. Studds, who championed the Sanctuary. So the full name is the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary – quite a mouthful!
  • Don’t let the name fool you; “sanctuary” does not mean that human activities are forbidden. Indeed, Stellwagen Bank has been called “an urban sanctuary.” Assistant Superintendent Ben Cowie-Haskell says “multi-use area” would be a more descriptive, if less aesthetically pleasing, name. Shipping, commercial fishing, and recreational boating are major players within sanctuary boundaries. Balancing those activities with conservation of natural and cultural resources is the ongoing challenge facing Sanctuary staff.
  • Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary was the first to get a shipping lane moved in order to protect endangered whales from ship strikes. This isn’t something the Sanctuary could do unilaterally; the shipping lanes are controlled by the International Maritime Organization and getting them changed took a grueling multi-stakeholder process. But it was a success! Ship strikes declined by 81%. Now officials at Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary off San Francisco are looking to do the same there.
  • If you’re going to be out boating in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, there’s an iPhone app, WhaleALERT, that you can download to find out in real time where you are in relation to whales and other key features. Personally, I’m still waiting for the Android version.

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