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Gulf of Maine Times

Vol. 4, No. 3


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Promoting a Regional Identity for the Gulf of Maine

By Tom Skinner
Director of the Massachusetts Office of
Coastal Zone Management

Photo courtesy of Tom SkinnerLet's face it - when you ask most people what the Gulf of Maine is, they think it's some pristine cove on Maine's rocky coast. Unless you are a meteorologist, a fisherman, or a staff member for an environmental nonprofit in northern New England or the Maritimes, you have probably never heard of the Gulf of Maine.

At the conference on Exploring Transboundary Arrangements for Management of the Gulf of Maine Ecosystem, which was held in St. John, New Brunswick, this past June, discussion frequently centered on how this lack of a regional identity really puts our Gulf at risk. Even though this patch of sea - bounded on the landward side from the tip of Cape Cod along the coast of New Hampshire and Maine, into the Bay of Fundy and down to Cape Sable - looks like a wing of the Atlantic Ocean on a map, it really acts more like a large lake.

Photo courtesy of Tom Skinner
Tom Skinner (above and above left)

Looking at a bathymetric map, showing the underwater contours of the region, you can see the true picture. Georges Bank and Brown Bank are two massive underwater mountain ranges, effectively cutting off the Gulf of Maine from the wider Atlantic, creating a sea within a sea. Consequently, the Gulf of Maine and its circular water patterns really act much like a large saltwater lake, similar in size to Lake Michigan, another transboundary water body.

What does Lake Michigan have that the Gulf of Maine doesn't have? Name recognition and a true sense of identity! What's in a name? Quite a lot when it comes to convincing people that what they do in their own backyards can influence such a vast region.

Until we can successfully elevate the regional identify of the Gulf of Maine in the consciousness of those that inhabit its shores and its watershed, we will always have difficulty convincing this populace to act as one to protect this tremendous resource. Over the past decade, the Gulf of Maine Council has worked to increase awareness of the Gulf of Maine, but over the next five years we must focus on forging a regional identity that links this great body of water and the people who live in its watershed.

Editor's Notes

The Gulf of Maine, "is a great part of the world," Bill Ballantine, the marine biologist wrote to me recently. And I couldn't agree with him more. I live along one of its distinct watersheds, around the corner from the Bay of Fundy in the palm of a long glacial valley severed by the Annapolis River. Buffeted by two small mountain ranges, the land on either side of the river widens into a broad swath of salt marsh and cultivated earth. I came here after spending most of my adult life as a journalist and editor in New England writing about the urban landscape. Despite moving much farther north into another country, the imprint of New England runs so deep here in Nova Scotia that I sometimes feel as if I have simply moved down the road. 

For centuries the Maritime Provinces and New England have shared both a human and natural history and much of it has centered on the Gulf of Maine. Its vast beauty and productivity have shaped so much of the way we think, our pattern of life, customs and beliefs. Because of this "international commons" we remain intrinsically tied. 

Today the Gulf of Maine is a region with a multiplicity of issues and few easy answers. When the Gulf of Maine Times first rolled off the press almost four years ago, its goal was to educate the public about marine environmental issues in the Gulf of Maine and highlight the region's many stewards. Suzy Fried, my predecessor, set out and accomplished just that. Without any model to follow, Suzy built the paper from the ground up and set a high journalistic standard. I am indebted to the generous support she has given me over these past couple of months.

As this issue and others have tried to illustrate, many layers of individuals, agencies and organizations are making progress in finding solutions. Whether it entails cleaning debris from one of the world's most historic harbors, removing a relic dam in a remote streambed, or protecting marine life in the Bay of Fundy, the goal remains the same: to safeguard and conserve our marine resources for generations to come. 

Over the next couple of issues the Times will introduce new contributors, which will enable us to expand our coverage on issues, research and technologies affecting the marine environment. Essays on natural history and individuals and groups creating change will aim to broaden our knowledge of the Gulf and help us get to know better this diverse and remarkable community. I value your comments and suggestions. Please feel free to write me at: