Cashes Ledge: The Gem of New England

Sea stars and bivalves illustrate the diversity of life on Cashes Ledge.

Led by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Sylvia Earle, the Mission Blue team recently returned from a Hope Spot Expedition to Cashes Ledge, a pristine biological hotspot off the coast of New England. It contains Ammen Rock, a peak so tall that it disrupts the Gulf of Maine current, creating massive upwellings of cold nutrient-rich water that fuels an explosion of life from plankton and squid to mackerel, tunas, billfish, sharks, seabirds, and a high diversity of marine mammals.

The area is home to the largest cold water kelp forest on the Atlantic seaboard and provides a nursery for important New England fish species like cod, pollock, Atlantic halibut, and white hake. Check out the map below for a better sense where the Cashes Ledge is located.

Dr. Earle at Cashes Ledge, August 2015
Dr. Earle dives at Cashes Ledge, August 2015. Photo: Kip Evans

Through the expedition, Dr. Earle and Mission Blue Director of Expeditions Kip Evans are working to amplify the efforts of Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), Mission Blue, National Geographic, and other environmental organizations in calling for permanent full protection of Cashes Ledge. She has also declared Cashes Ledge and the New England Canyons and Seamounts 150 miles off Cape Cod “Hope Spots,” critical marine habitats that, if fully protected, can help return the ocean to a healthy state.

Filmmaker Robert Nixon (Gorillas in the Mist, Mission Blue) was on hand to document this conservation-oriented expedition for his new documentary, Blue Centennial. Local Martha’s Vineyard fisherman Captain Buddy Vanderhoop was also there to lend support for the permanent protection of Cashes Ledge and other important areas in New England’s ocean.

“Cashes Ledge is the Yellowstone of the North Atlantic,” said Dr. Earle after returning from the dive. “It is a unique formation, an underwater extension of the mountains of Acadia National Park. It’s a place known only to fishermen–and an amazing gathering of fish and other wildlife–until recent years when divers and scientists have explored and documented the nature of this glorious, golden forest.”

[Disclaimer: This map does not necessarily reflect the current map policy of the National Geographic Society.]
Early in the 20th century, actions were taken to begin protecting extraordinary natural, cultural, and historic places–a network of parks and monuments across the United States landscape that has been called the “best idea America ever had.” Now, early in the 21st century, there is an opportunity to embrace comparable underwater treasures within the nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone, an area more than twice the size of the land.

Vibrant marine life adorn Cashes Ledge.

“Diving on Cashes Ledge was an experience of a lifetime, in a lifetime of amazing underwater experiences,” continued Earle. “I saw for myself what scientists have been raving about for years–a miraculous mountain peak that comes close enough to sunlight to be crowned with a thriving forest of kelp and a richly diverse assemblage of coastal marine life in the open sea. Permanent full protection for Cashes Ledge and the deep sea canyons and seamounts of New England will be a good for the fish, for fishermen, for the ocean, and for all of humankind.”

Red Cod swim through healthy kelp forest with cunner at Cashes Ledge; 70-miles off the coast of Maine
Red Cod swim through healthy kelp forest at Cashes Ledge.

In April, the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) voted to continue temporary prohibitions on fishing for cod and other groundfish, but the area could be re-opened by the Council to industrial fishing in the future. Want to help ensure the continued conservation of Cashes Ledge? You can add your voice to this petition created by by our partners at the Conservation Law Foundation. Many thanks also to our partners at National Geographic, Google, and the National Resources Defense Council for making this expedition a reality.

Background to this series of posts

Bold Plan for 50 Ocean Hope Spots


Exciting news came out of the 3rd International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC 3): Her Deepness Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue and IUCN launched 31 new Mission Blue Hope Spots — Marine Protected Areas — across the globe to massively scale up the level of marine protection that experts consider necessary for a sustainable future.

A Hope Spot is an area of ocean that merits special protection because of its wildlife and significant underwater habitats. Each Hope Spot can give the ocean a breathing space from human activities so that it may recover and flourish. Dr. Earle named these areas Hope Spots because they represent a real hope to restore the health of our imperiled ocean.

The 31 new announcements come in addition to the 19 Hope Spots that Mission Blue was already working to protect over the previous four years. Click on the thumbnail below to hear about Hope Spots straight from Sylvia.

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When Dr. Earle won the TED Prize in 2009, she implored ocean supporters “to use all means at your disposal – films, the web, expeditions, new submarines, a campaign! – to ignite public support for a network of global marine protected areas, Hope Spots large enough to save and restore the ocean, the blue heart of the planet.” Click on the thumbnail below to hear the TED talk.

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Read all the Voices posts in this series on Mission Blue Hope Spots

Keywords: Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue, IUCN, Mission Blue Hope Spots, marine protected areas, underwater habitats, TED Prize, oceans, Cashes Ledge, New England, Gulf of Maine

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
Brett is the founder of Cut Canvas Creative, a creative agency in San Francisco. Mission Blue is one of his non-profit clients.