NRDC: NOAA not doing enough to protect Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

NRDC: U.S. government not doing enough to protect Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

The Natural Resources Defense Council claims that NOAA Fisheries has failed to protect the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary despite increased threats from marine heat waves, biodiversity decline, and degraded habitat.

Located at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay off the coast of the U.S. state of Massachusetts, the sanctuary stretches across an 842-square-mile area and is home to hundreds of species of marine life.

According to the nonprofit conservation group, an updated management plan released by the agency last month “does not include any concrete requirements to restore and protect” the sanctuary.

“There is no commitment to any kind of regulatory or mandatory action to protect the sanctuary,” NRDC Oceans Division Senior Strategist Sarah Chasis said in a blog post. “And the sanctuary regulations that were adopted almost 30 years ago remain unchanged.”

Instead, the document only commits the agency to conducting studies and assessments, which Chasis said is not enough.

“NOAA has failed to step up and do its job,” Chasis said. “The time for documenting problems is over and the time for implementing effective actions to restore and protect our ocean, including Stellwagen Bank, is here.”

The NRDC called on NOAA Fisheries to implement mitigation measures that can protect whales and marine life from noise and lower travel speeds to 10 knots or less to help prevent vessel strikes. The conservation organization also requested that the New England Fishery Management Council create new regulations that protect spawning cod stock, sand lance, and bottom habitat in the sanctuary.

The conservation group also wants to see changes to the National Marine Sanctuary System more broadly, including increased funding, a clear mission statement that prioritizes protection, and action items in its management plans for specific sanctuaries.

NRDC’s criticism comes as the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden pushes for the establishment of a 16 national marine sanctuary off the coast of central California. The proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary would cover a 5,617-square-mile area. It would be the first sanctuary led by an Indigenous tribe, with the government considering comanaging the area with the Chumash and Salinan tribes.

Last month, NOAA Fisheries announced that Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary would be one of six sanctuaries that would receive upgrades under USD 50 million (EUR 47 million) made available through the Inflation Reduction Act. USD 15 million (EUR 14 million) was set aside to build a new visitor center for the sanctuary in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Photo courtesy of lego 19861111/Shutterstock


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