This initial report on resource status and trends for Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary indicates the need for management actions that address the degraded conditions of some key habitats and living resources in the sanctuary. Over half the categories (10 of 17) had fair through poor ratings, with eight of ten relating to habitat or living marine resources. The general trend for living resources appears to be static and in need of improvements, an indication that pressures on living resources are high requiring targeted management efforts. The status of benthic communities and habitats remains problematic as well. The report also suggests that monitoring programs for water quality and a number of other resources (e.g., habitat contaminants and invasive species) need to be enhanced.
Stellwagen Bank sanctuary has moved proactively in recent years to address critical monitoring and research needs, such as understanding the relationship between whale distributions and ship traffic, and ascertaining the acoustic environment of the sanctuary in order to determine what threats noise may pose. The sanctuary has used this information to propose relatively minor changes in vessel traffic patterns that could reduce the threat of vessel strikes of whales by over 80%. The site is also working with partners in academia and industry to tag whales in order to understand behaviors such as dive times and feeding strategies. These behaviors may affect their vulnerability to human activities and natural environmental changes.
Sound research and monitoring programs will continue to be essential precursors to management at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Through its revised management plan and reports like this one, the site and its partners will set a course for actions that have as their sole target the restoration and protection of the sanctuary's rich natural resources and cultural legacy.