Frequent reports in the New England news media remind us of the compelling need to more effectively inform residents of the Gulf of Maine about marine species and their habitats. Whether it's the sustainability of the lobster population, the survival of endangered species such as the right whale, or the economic well-being of those residents who make a living from the sea, people will make better decisions if they understand marine issues.
But educating the public about the marine environment can be challenging. Unlike ecosystems on land, the marine environment is unseen by people in their everyday lives. For most of us, everything that happens in the Gulf of Maine beneath the water's surface is out of sight and out of mind. Yet the Gulf of Maine is one of the most rich and productive marine environments in the world. As on land, the Gulf has varied landforms, which were molded by glaciers over 10,000 years ago. Under the waters and waves of the Gulf, valleys plunge to depths of 1,500 feet and small mountains rise up to just below the sea surface. Instead of weather systems, in the Gulf water currents control temperatures, bringing nutrients and food to an array of plants and animals that thrive in these landscapes.
In an effort to reveal this underwater world, scientists and marine educators teamed up in 1998 to produce the Undersea Landscapes of the Gulf of Maine poster. Coastal Geologist Joe Kelley and Marine Biologist Bob Steneck, both of the University of Maine, were instrumental in this process. The poster featured photographs, text, and a large colorful shaded-relief map that revealed the plants, animals, and physical features of the Gulf.
The Undersea Landscapes of the Gulf of Maine educational website expands and builds on the success of the poster. Working with the Maine Coastal Program at the State Planning Office, the Gulf of Maine Research Institute created this innovative website that combines three-dimensional computer models of the Gulf of Maine's many landscapes with stunning underwater photography. The website has important background information on the Gulf of Maine, which provides context for first-time "visitors." From here, visitors can learn about three fascinating aquatic species (lobsters, alewives, and brook trout) and two physical environments (the Bay of Fundy and Cashes Ledge). These segments take visitors on a trip from the mountainous, upper reaches of the Gulf of Maine watershed to the middle of the marine realm 80 miles off the New England coast. Through these journeys, people will gain an appreciation of the Gulf of Maine, and become better stewards of this bountiful and beautiful resource.