National Geographic : 2017 Feb
saving the seas 75 The Buck Island monument benefits animals that range far outside its boundaries. and snorkel past boulder-size brain coral on the underwater trail. What they can’t do is fish, an- chor in the lagoon, or camp on the island. Superintendent Joel A. Tutein was a 10-year- old boy watching from a boat when Washington dignitaries came to the island in 1962 and donned swimsuits and dive masks for the underwater dedication. He has watched various marine- protection efforts for half a century too—none more wrenching than the shutdown of the is- land’s fishery. But in the nearly 14 years since, the community has rallied around Buck Island in ways “that pull people together instead of pulling them apart,” Tutein says. Ecotourism has become an important business: Buck Island attracts around 50,000 visitors a year. can marine parks like buck islanD help the larger ocean recover? Consider Pulley Ridge in the Gulf of Mexico, the deepest light-dependent coral reef in the continental U.S., and another place conservationists would dearly love to see designated a marine monument. Scientists be- lieve that fish larvae born on Pulley Ridge are carried by currents around Florida’s southern coast to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanc- tuary, where they replenish the stocks of threat- ened fish. If Pulley Ridge were protected, the Keys would benefit too. At Buck Island scientists are researching the elkhorns’ surprising resilience, with a view to transplanting coral colonies to climate-bleached reefs elsewhere. “ These biological assets are the sources for us when we get smarter,” says Zandy Hillis-Starr, chief of resource management there. If wildlife managers can help wolves and bison resurge in Yellowstone, she says, they can help sharks and groupers rebound in the sea. Maybe they can even help cod. Back aboard the Plan b, marine biologist Witman is checking his GoPro footage from Cashes Ledge. In the Gulf of Maine today, the cod stock is estimated to be less than one percent of what it was in colonial times, in spite of decades of catch limits. Witman watches abundant cunners and fat pollacks sway to and fro with the waves and the kelp. For every 10 minutes of footage, he sees two or three cod swimming through. It doesn’t sound impressive— but it’s more than 30 times what he’d see else- where in the Gulf of Maine. And it makes setting aside a place where the fish can never be caught sound like a pretty sensible idea. j Cynthia Barnett, an environmental journalist, has writ- ten three books on water, including Rain: A Natural and Cultural History. She lives in Gainesville, Florida.