Sanctuary in name only

Sanctuary in name only

June 1, 2007

SLAPPING THE title of "national marine sanctuary" on the 842-square-mile stretch of ocean known as Stellwagen Bank back in 1992 did little to protect whales from being hit by ships, or to prevent trawlers from degrading seafloor habitats that sustain dozens of species of fish. A favorable future for this extraordinary ecosystem, stretching from Cape Ann to Cape Cod, requires the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to set stricter limits on commercial and recreational activity.

A recent status report on Stellwagen by NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program makes for depressing summer reading. Water quality monitoring is marginal, and pressure on marine life is high. Some whales get entangled in fishing gear. Others bear the marks of boat propellers on their backs. Draggers endanger historic shipwrecks while whale watch boats ferry 1 million customers through the sanctuary each year, stirring the fears of environmentalists. Tankers and cargo ships traverse Stellwagen en route to the Port of Boston in sight of recreational boaters who zip along at 20 knots...

The report gives fair warning. Right now, Stellwagen is no sanctuary.

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