As the Conservancy defines it, the Northwest Atlantic region stretches from Cape Hatteras in North Carolina to the northern limit of the Gulf of Maine in Canadian waters, and extends from the high tide mark in bays and rivers seaward to the foot of the continental slope (to a depth of 2500 meters). It includes the shorelines of 11 states and two provinces, which have a combined population of more than 65 million people.
This region contains a mosaic of critical habitats that support a wide range of ecologically, commercially and recreationally important species. Seagrass meadows, oyster reefs, salt marshes, shallow shoals, deep water canyons, offshore banks and ledges, and open water habitats provide shelter, nurseries, spawning areas and food for thousands of species ranging from plankton to hard clams to striped bass to humpback whales.
Along these shores are some of the Atlantic’s most important ecosystems — special places such as Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, Long Island Sound, Narragansett Bay, the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy. Northwest Atlantic waters are important feeding grounds for sea turtles and whales and support major fisheries for species like cod, oysters, striped bass, herring and menhaden.
As we enter an era of unprecedented growth in ocean activities, new activities such as offshore oil and gas drilling, wind energy development and ocean aquaculture are competing to stake their claims on the ocean along with traditional uses such as commercial and recreational fishing, shipping and recreation.
Those things can be done in ecologically compatible ways, but not without limits and proper attention to their cumulative impacts. The Northwest Atlantic Marine Ecoregional Assessment will enable others to identify conservation priorities in the ocean just as we’ve done on land and balance different uses in ways that work for people and nature.