Spacious Seas Where a Majesty of Right Whales Roam

In the sky, south of the high table-top escarpment that separated us from where the dead right whale lay, a bright shaft of rainbow light scorched upwards the rose-colored sky.

During the summer of 2017, the tenth right whale known to die in the Gulf of St. Lawrence was found in Cedar Cove, Newfoundland on August 2nd.  The death of this particular whale, one of twelve that died in these waters well north of the Gulf of Maine, would tell us more about what was going on than would any other whale.

Nobody lives in Cedar Cove because it is on the outside of the Bay of Islands facing weather that streams over Labrador and rushes head-long across the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Cedar Cove Trail Head Parking Lot is at the end of the road from Corner Brook. Past York Harbor and Lark Harbor, the road ramps up through spruce forests around table-top moors to a place known for the best beach combing in Newfoundland.

On August 2, the day the whale was found, I was on a Dutch tall ship, the bark Europa.  We had anchored the night before in the harbor named for the ship HMS Lark (a 32-gun fifth rate two-decker frigate) that was in this place 250 years ago.

In the morning, the wind was very light from the north. Ideal conditions for setting all 1250 square meters of sail on the 185 foot three masted bark. We pulled out whisker poles and set six stunsails flying. Europa cleared the Bay of Islands and headed south along Newfoundland’s western shore.

To our left, Cedar Cove was a distant notch in the skyline of spruce and rock. Here an expired right whale lay high on a boulder strewn shore.  I did not know this until the next day when fellow crew members from Corner Brook told me what they had heard from family back home.

I was greatly concerned.  A few days earlier I had been on a local whale watch in search of the eight right whales that were summering in the Bay of Islands.  For a couple of hours, we motored outwards in the deep bay from Corner Brook. No sign of right whales was found that day.  We did see humpback and fin whales, and small open boats containing one or two fishermen catching cod with hook and line.

Bay of Islands is Newfoundland’s most important estuary. In this spectacular landscape, the cold waters flow down the Humber River from Deer Lake forming a strong salmon run with grilse, small salmon, and salmon weighing more than 30 pounds. Such a healthy ecosystem is a grand place for right whales and a great pride for the resident people.

This is arguably the finest salmon waters in the Atlantic Ocean.  So, of course, there are right whales in the Bay of Islands.  The question is what took them so long.  The answer is likely, but not necessarily, a combination of changes in the ocean and changes with this population of whales.

Our ignorance of life beneath the waves is astounding. This, despite an abundance of information that is nearly drowning us, along with a stifling amount of opinions washing about.

Right whales are very difficult to see, let alone count. They lack the speed, the wheel and splash, of fin, minke, and humpback whales. With mouth open, they filter out plankton through baleen plates that hang down in the mouth.  At times, with top lip above the water and baleen visible, a clickety-clack sound may be heard of baleen plates hitting one another.

Fast swimming whales have a small fin on top like the feather on the back of an arrow.  It helps them go straight at high speeds.  No dorsal fin on right whales.  Not eating fish, there is nothing hurried about a right whale.

Right whales appear to me as the most majestic of whales. They swim slowly, stately, rising up and settling down.

Outside the Bay of Islands, along the rock-bound coast, life for right whales is not as copacetic. This was not the first right whale to perish close to Bay of Islands.  Just to the north, a right whale was also found dead in Chimney Cove.

A right whale was also found dead in the very Southwest corner of Newfoundland at Cape Ray, fifteen miles west of Port Aux Basques where the Nova Scotia ferry pulls in.

A fourth right whale was found way north, dead on the Western shore south of the River of Ponds.  This whale expired about 275 north of Cape Ray, twice the distance north to Bay of Islands.  All four whales were greatly decomposed. That is, they had died many weeks previously.

The eight right whales observed grazing in the Bay of Islands were individually known. The four dead whales, found on the outer coast, were most definitely not one of the local right whales.  Two of the dead whales had unique callosity markings.  The other two dead whales were too far gone to be individually identified and died long ago, before live whales were seen in Corner Brook.

Elsewhere, eight more right whales were found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. North of the Magdalen Islands a badly decomposed right whale was found bobbing on the surface. Two right whale was found north of Prince Edwards Island, once came ashore near Norway. Further West, off New Brunswick, five right whales were found dead.

These places are about as far from Newfoundland as Boston is from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.  The Gulf of Maine is about 70,000 square miles and Gulf of St. Lawrence is roughly 91,000.  These are spacious seas where North Atlantic right whales dwell.

The trouble for right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence may be that it drains the Great Lakes. This means much boat traffic and pollution. It could result in more ship strikes and the lessening of fertility from toxic chemicals that bio-accumulate in fat cells passed from mother whales to young.  More nutrients may feed harmful algal blooms to create ocean dead zones.  There is also a large snow crab fishery.

The twelve dead right whales ranged in age from two to at least thirty-seven years old.  Eight males and four females were found.  Nine of the whales had been individually identified and were included in the New England Aquarium Right Whale Catalog.  Three right whales were new to these researchers.

Of the four dead right whales found strewn across Newfoundland’s Western shore, the one found in Cedar Cove looked like an abandoned gray survival suit that had been tossed up on the rocks. It had been dead for so long, was so decomposed, that the bones had slipped out, likely head first, sinking into the deep leaving behind, floating on the surface, blubber and skin.

The Cedar Cove right whale (Whale #11) was a twelve-year-old female. Genetic profiling revealed that this was the same whale as the one found floating dead north of Prince Edward Island. This whale (#5) had gone missing after July 4th. At that time the carcass condition was already moderately decomposed, suggesting death was about a month earlier.  Modeling with currents and prevailing wind conditions, researchers calculated that this whale was much further west, close to the New Brunswick shore, when it was struck by a vessel and killed.

Hindcast reverse trajectories were simulated for eight whales in total.  This includes the Cedar Cove whale. Predicting the drift of dead whales for 14 days prior found most of the trajectories originated on the western side of the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence, well south of the St. Lawrence seaway boat traffic.

The report ruled out harmful algal blooms and diseases. Ship strikes and fishing entanglements killed the whales. The increase in mortality was attributed to a combination of three factors: increased right whale abundance in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, increased exposure to human-activities, and whale carcasses were more apt to be found due to increased survey efforts.

The finding-more-whales factor was put on steroids by international interest and heightened media coverage. Before this summer, a whale found dead was a big deal to locals and hardly considered newsworthy in the next town or two over. Such occurrences in Newfoundland were of little interest to Prince Edward Island, to New Brunswick, and visa versa.

In 2017, the counting of dead right whales was on.  So much so that in September, a whale watching cruise ship departed Southampton, UK, in hopes of viewing the last of the right whales in Canadian waters.

For the nine right whales known to researchers in Boston, exposure to human-activities did not increase significantly in Canadian waters. Yes, there were likely more right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence than ever before.

There is another human-whale interaction that should also be factored in, one that should not repeat in subsequent years. It is possible the high whale mortality in 2017 is not part of a downward spiral for the right whale population of changing ocean conditions. These tragedies are very specific, and may be more an episode, an anomaly, than part of a trend.

Five right whales were entangled in snow crab fishing gear off of Shippagan, New Brunswick.  The Campobello Whale Rescue Team in the Bay of Fundy answered the call. They were the only ones with the permit, and the will, to rescue entangled right whales in the Canadian Maritimes.

Two entangled whales were freed of gear.  On July 10, the rescue boat approached the third whale. Joe Howlett cut free one of the lines with a long spear-like handle with a knife on the end. Howlett hooked under the second line. Cut free of entanglement, the whale dropped under the boat.  The whale’s massive tail came up and came down striking Howlett dead. The whale shook loose the lines and swam off.

The Campobello Whale Rescue Team stopped disentangling right whales.  They had cut free the snow crab gear from three whales, two males ages 6 years and 33 years, and one unknown gender right whale.  A seven-year-old female and fifteen-year-old male were also observed entangled in gear. These whales were left to fend for themselves.

For years the rescue team had called on the Canadian government to fund rescue work freeing whales. To no avail. With the tragic loss of Howlett, right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Bay of Fundy were bereft of rescue teams.

Instead of stepping up to fund a rescue vessel in the vicinity of the snow-crab fishery to complement the privately-funded Campobello Whale Rescue Team in the Bay of Fundy, the government suspended right whale rescues and closed the snow crab fishery for the summer.

Extensive necropsies were completed on carcasses of six right whales.  For one whale, decomposition was too advanced for a cause of death to be determined.  For one whale, the cause of death was chronic entanglement.  For the other four whales, blunt trauma was either the suspected or the probable cause of death. These four whales had been struck by the hull of a vessel in waters worked by snow crabbers.

In 2018, no right whales were found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  In 2019, nine right whales died.  Two whales were found together on the same day in June off the Acadian Peninsula in northeastern New Brunswick. They seemed not have been entangled with fishing gear.

Three whales were observed swimming with rope entanglements.  One of these whales had been observed in April in the Gulf of Maine trailing a line of rope from underneath its body. These whales were in New Brunswick waters closed to fishing.

The Canadian government is considering putting tracking devices on whales suffering from entanglements.  They are reluctant to take risks freeing whales of lines.

Overall, how are right whales doing sharing seascapes with humans? In 2013, the reported North Atlantic right whale population peaked at 476, having climbed from 291 in the 1990’s. The population appeared to drop in 2014. Today, the right whale population is estimated at about 400. (Canadian government estimates 411.)

In 2015, researchers went farther afield in search of whales.  The first survey of the Gulf of St. Lawrence was held in western portions near Prince Edward Island.  Forty to forty-five right whales were sighted.  The same number was found in 2016.  The fateful summer of 2017, 100 North Atlantic right whales were documented in western reaches of the Gulf.

Indubitably, the Gulf of St. Lawrence has become an important habitat for North Atlantic right whales.  In this magnificent place, there is hope for right whales.

There are compelling indications of even more right whales. Genetic profiling of the right whales calving off of Southeastern US found that, when sampled again in summering areas, only 60% of all known calves were with their mothers.  The remaining 40% of calves were not observed on known summering grounds.

Right whale paternity analysis found fathers of only 45% of known calves have been genetically determined.  Since genetic profiles have been determined for 69% of all photo-identified males, the population of male right whales is likely larger than reported.

For the people of the high granite outcropped shores of Newfoundland as well as those of the lobster-red sandstone ledges of Prince Edward Island, the wonder is what took the right whales so long to rediscover spectacular seascapes resplendent with nutrient rich waters.

The answer may be global warming climate-driven changes to the whale’s ecosystem.  The summer when surprisingly few right whales were observed in the Bay of Fundy, a decrease in their food was also found.  The population of the most abundant zoo plankton organism, a copepod called Calanus finmarchicus, had dropped.  Plankton are organisms that drift with the ocean currents.  So the population decline in the high-fat sesame-sized crustaceans was thought to be due to a shift in the oceans currents. This was most disconcerting because this is the place where whales stoke up, putting down fat reserves, to make it through a low diet winter in clear waters off the coast of Georgia.

Ocean currents are shifting because so much of the planet’s heat energy is prevented from escaping into outer space by greenhouse gasses. 93.4% of the retained energy is going into the ocean.  When water warms, it expands, becomes less dense, causing sea levels to rise and circulation patterns to shift.

The motion in the oceans’ currents is primarily driven by the rising of warm waters and the sinking of dense cold briny waters.  The ocean’s thermohaline circulation is also called meridional overturning circulation.  The direction of ocean currents is caused by the Earth’s rotation, known as the Coriolis effect.

Global warming induced climate change is melting the polar ice cap. Sea ice that once covered two-thirds of the Arctic Ocean, today covers less than one third and is on average shrinking. As a result, there is twice as much open seawater to freeze come October.

Fulmar flies before iceberg in East Greenland. Photo Rob Moir, Ocean River Institute

When sea water freezes, salt is expelled so the water molecules can align in a crystalline structure, ice.  Icebergs float one-eighth above the sea because the water is denser with salt. (Icebergs float level in fresh water.) Salt left behind in the freezing of sea ice makes the adjacent cold water even denser.  Denser water sinks.

With more sea ice formation in the Arctic, more seawater is flowing into the Atlantic Ocean.  Cold, nutrient-rich dense Arctic water slams into warm nutrient poor Atlantic water in the Denmark Strait. There the Arctic water plunges down 11,000 feet in the world’s largest waterfall to form the Greenland midwater current. This water flows south along East Greenland, around Cape Farewell and then north along West Greenland.  In Baffin Bay, the right-hand bearing current turns around, returning to the Labrador Sea to become the Labrador Current.

The Gulf of Maine is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by Browns Bank below Nova Scotia and by Georges Bank above Cape Cod.  The connecting deep water Northeast Passage is only about sixty miles wide.

The amount of Labrador Current water entering the Gulf of Maine varies from year to year, unexpectedly, much like the arrival of hurricanes (too many factors in play to measure and model). The technical terms for the volume of Labrador Current entering the Gulf of Maine are barn door open, barn door closed, and barn door ajar.

When researchers find a warming of water in the deep basins it indicates less Labrador Current water and more Slope Water. When “the barn door is closed” to the Labrador Current, warmer, less-dense Slope Water fills in.

More water flowing out of the Arctic Ocean is in turn driving a stronger flowing Gulf Stream.  This was evident in October 2011, when the Gulf Stream meandered up onto the continental shelf closer to the U.S. than ever recorded.  (A river dissipates excess energy laterally by meandering, much like a train crash sending rail cars in crumpled zig-zag.)

In 2007, the Gulf Stream surfaced in Svalbard, a Norwegian archipelago on the threshold between the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. This commenced the melt of glaciers on the land. Heat brought to Northern Europe by the Gulf Stream set record high temperatures.  Warm midwater is increasingly flowing back into the Arctic Ocean furthering the summer melt of sea ice. A positive feedback loop is completed.

Surface currants in the Gulf of Maine are no less fickle. Fresh water from off the land tongues and pools on top of briny Shelf Water. The Gulf of Maine is like a layer cake.  Labrador Current water on the bottom; then Slope Water, Shelf Water, and surface water frosting.

Surface waters run deep in the summer due to winter snow melt and spring rains. In winter, surface waters become more diffuse and less distinct.  Summer of 2013 saw such extreme wet and hot weather over the land, that surface water temperatures rose 4 degrees Fahrenheit, a legendary warming that was greater than reports from any other ocean water body. In 2014, surface water temperatures were cooler.

With extreme weather events have come variations in ocean currents. Shifting currents moved out of reach the herring that puffins relied on to feed their chicks. Shifting currents may be why researchers are finding less copepods in the right whale grounds at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy.

However, researchers are also finding less phytoplankton, the food of copepods. A factor could also be pollutants.  Likely more herbicides and pesticides are being applied to clear power lines and to manage over-fertilized lawns. (Lawns with quick-release fertilizer have shallow roots, less resilience and have more need for pesticides and herbicides. Lawns without fertilizer put down deeper roots, are more resilient, and put on more foliage capturing more carbon.)

Right whale Photo by Jessica Taylor, Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, New England Aquarium

Whether the right whales came to the Gulf of St. Lawrence out of necessity, due to an inconvenience of where the shoals of copepods were, or by choice due to a growing population exceeding its habitat, does not matter.  The Gulf of St. Lawrence provides vast watery realms where whales stoke up on shoals of plankton.  Right whales have expanded their range.  The benefit for us are more opportunities to view magnificent right whales without disturbing them. In the majestic company of right whales, life is better for us all.

Deep Sea Canyon Rangers, Guardians of Ocean Realms

Far out on the Atlantic Ocean, about 160 miles southeast of Nantucket, the morning light revealed that the sea had changed from cold gun metal gray to a deep Mediterranean blue.   Looking out through the pilot house window, I saw a sperm whale. The rectangular black portion above the water reminded me of a railroad box car.  The blowhole was forward on the left side of head, on top just behind the perpendicular descent of the whale’s front. The back was flat and smooth no sign of a backbone, no dorsal fin. The expanse of back turned to knuckles that stepped down the tail disappearing into the water.

This was a very different beast than the whales of whale watching, the humpback, fin and minke whales. Their wheeling behaviors had become familiar. Head breaks the surface, followed by paired blow holes, ridged steeply-sided back followed by dorsal fin and sometimes lifted tail.

The sperm whale was still in the water; waves lapped at its square black brow. There was no exhalation of atomized water droplets rising in a diagonal column to fall clear of the whale. This whale was dead.

I turned around in the pilot house to see the captain stripped down to his shorts standing on one foot while maneuvering the other foot into a wet suit held spread by his two hands. The Captain was also a jeweler with an interest in scrimshaw. He was preparing to put on scuba gear to get some whale teeth.

There I stood, the curator of natural history of a Massachusetts museum who had brought a bit more than a dozen patrons on a three-day cruise off the continental shelf on a sperm whale watch. The dead whale was unexpected. And then, the only one who knew how to operate the boat was about to jump ship to take a quixotic swim to pluck teeth from the largest toothed jawbone in the animal kingdom with what looked to me like a Bowie knife. How could things have gone so wrong?  How could this distant ocean realm be better managed so one would no longer find one out of three whales sighted floating dead?

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Solar Eclipse in Somerville Through a Pin Hole Brightly

High cirrus clouds stretched white gauze across the sun leaving patches of blue sky.  I freed my bike from the stand by my office in Harvard Square at about 1:30 pm.  Only the leaves at the top of trees moved slightly to a wisp of a Southeast breeze.  Riding home along Kirkland Street the breeze was only apparent wind striking me face-on. The harder I peddled the faster the wind.  The air was thick with mid-day heat.  Moving down the road had a feeling of swimming to it.

Home in Somerville, I walked my bike to the backyard.  Opening the wooden gate, I heard the “cluck” of a disgruntled black bird moving away from me from dogwood perch to redbud tree branch, and then off across a neighbor’s yard.  Sparrows flitted about in leafy trees and over to evergreens.

I went through the backdoor to the kitchen. On the counter was a pair of solar eclipse viewing glasses that my wife had had the forethought to order weeks ago.  I stepped out onto the back porch, put the glasses on, and looked up at the sun.  With such opaque glasses the blackness was absolute, punctured by a round sphere the size of the sun.  The strange lit circle was broken by a smudge of blackness on the lower right side of the arc, at about 5 o’clock on a clock face.   The solar eclipse had begun before 1:37 pm.

Contrary to the illustrations in today’s Boston Globe, the moon was on the move across the sun from right to left, from west to east, at least according to my earthly perspective in Somerville.  This because the view from my back porch is of the moon moving slower than the sun. It cycles around closer to every 25 hours instead of 24.   The sun is eclipsing the moon’s orbit, passing behind it while the moon in the foreground sets to the west more slowly.

By 2:06 pm the smudge had become an orb covering more than a quarter of the sun, perhaps a third. Finches chirped their normal mid-day chatter.  A white butterfly flew about the yard.  In the neighbor’s large six sparrows sat a willow branch. Their combined weight caused the branch to bow down a bit.  Other sparrows sat other willow branches.  Their attention was on a bird feeder my neighbor keeps filled during the summer.  I could not see the feeder, just sparrow launching off willow wands in one direction out of sight and then returning.

Before the neighbor’s willow is a redbud in my yard.  A gentle gust of wind caused some but all redbud leaves to rustle and the willow to wave. By 2:15 the dogwood and maple had joined in with leaves moving for a moment and going still.  The sun appeared as the wide grin of a Cheshire cat rolled onto its left side.

The wind picked up. Arbor vitae and red cedar juniper branches moved with the leaves of deciduous trees.  A couple of sparrows perched momentarily on our empty bird feeder.  Then moved on.

The sun came out again, blazing through a vale of white.  By 2:30 it looked to me eclipsed with the east horn matching the west horn of light.  From my Somerville porch the eclipse is twisted to the west, not perpendicular with horizon to the southwest. Instead the horns of light, the corners of the open-mouth smile, are pointing to the West.  Wisps of passing cloud give the sun, viewed through my very dark glasses, the look of smoking.  As the world turns, the horns of the occluded sun appear to rotate downwards.

The moon stands before the sun, blocking about a third of light for what seems to me like a wonderfully long time.  Yet it has only been 15 minutes.

I took a piece of paper, about 4 by 4 inches, and with a sewing needle poked a hole in the middle of it.  Sunlight streamed through the window onto the kitchen table.  I held the paper in the sunlight, tipping it to be more perpendicular to the sun.  On table top a tiny bright spot appeared in the middle of the shadow square.  I got out the magnifying lens, the one we keep for reading warning labels not meant to be read. Held the lens above the spot of light on the kitchen table, while in the other hand held the shadow puppet. Through the lens I thought I saw tiny crescent eclipsed sun.  Concerned that perhaps I had made a crescent hole, I rotated the paper to turn the image. The image did not turn because it actually was a projection of the eclipsed sun through a pin hole.

The leaves and branches continued to rustle.  Raucous sparrows continued to seesaw on willow branches while cleaning my neighbor’s bird feeder.  A siren wailed in the distance.  Here a passing cloud, or passing shadow of a sharp-shinned hawk, would have disturbed nature more than did the moon eclipsing the sun.

Another fifteen minutes passed and the moon counter-clocked across the face of the sun.  The horns of the crescent sun tilted from West towards South.  Clouds thickened and the sun faded from view. I took a look without the special glass and could not see because the sun was too bright, despite the cloak of clouds. My passing glance left momentary spots drifting before my eyes.  I retreated to the kitchen table with pin-holed paper and magnifying lens to wait for sufficient clarity of light.

At 3:20 pm, an hour after a cloud hid the sun, the sun and moon continue to mostly hide while I sought glimpses of dark orb moving left across bright orb.  The wind gusted stronger confirming that clouds moving in and fronts on the move were a great influence than was the moon passing before the sun.

The sparrows quieted down either because they had sufficient seed or because they’ve moved on to better pickings.  Sunlight does not fall brightly again on the kitchen table.

3:45 pm, through my special eye protection glasses the clouds were black, they moved like waves of varying thicknesses over the sun, washing from right to the left side, where the black rim of the moon lingered before the sun.  The moon that began at about 5, if the sun’s face were a clock, had swung around to 9.  From there the moon continued to exit off to the left growing smaller in length and width.

By 4 pm, the inverted bite of apple had slipped away. Sun was round, complete once more.  Moon and sun had gone their separate ways across the sky.

NOTE: The photograph was taken on August 22, 2017 by a student of Tom Hallock, Associate Professor of English at the University of Southern Florida, St. Petersburg.  Tom and I were colleagues in John Elder’s nonfiction writing workshop at Orion’s Breadloaf Conference.  John distributed what Annie Dillard called her finest essay, Dillard experiencing an eclipse.  Tom distributed the article to his students and here it is in the photograph.  I was most thrilled and envious to see the student had found a tree with pinhole-camera leaves projecting many eclipses onto Dillard’s piece.  During the eclipse I searched the dozen or so small trees around my house for this solar effect without success. With students there are always wonderful discoveries.

Ocean River Institute display to come down and depart Harvard Square.

Last week, while I was sailing on the tall ship Europa from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia, I was informed by email to remove the Ocean River Institute’s exhibit in the display window by the Mt Auburn Street Post Office in Cambridge. When I was hauling on halyards, I was directed to clear away the ducks and ocean images from the streets of Cambridge. I was up to date on monthly payments. However, after many years of occupancy, the last display window contract of eighteen months had expired during the winter. And now someone else is interested in the space and likely had agree to pay more rent per month.


The Ocean River Institute display window is a Harvard Square amenity. Inside the post office I over hear Dads saying: “after we finish with all this, then we’ll go see the ducks.” Once I found a woman looking intently at the one of the fish sketches by Dina Chapeau. She was France and wanted to know what we called monkfish so she could order it off a menu. The irony is we were all introduced to monkfish by Julia Child, who discovered it in France. I like the monkfish served at Parsnip on Winthrop.

Watercolors by Harper Dangler illustrate three ecotones, the Atlantic Ocean, Estuary and Coldstream River. At the bottom of the ocean may be seen four habitats, muddy, sandy, gravel and boulder reef. Each ocean floor has its own inhabitants who are identified by Dina’s legend on the right.

For me the most poignant image is up high on the wall. A vibrant and clean Boston Harbor with cat boat, tug boat, tall ship and people lolling about on the harbor walk. Across the bottom of the harbor image is written: Together, we are protecting environments not for self but for all.

When we’ve got a harbor of pride with marvelous animals dwelling within, it should be displayed. Must the amenity on Mt Auburn Street by the Post Office be gone because of a lapsed contract?

Stop Florida from Closing the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

The South Florida Water Management District has begun a process to revoke the agreement between the State of Florida and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to eliminate The Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

No surprise, the Refuge was created to stop the sugar industry dumping waste. The U.S. Department of Justice has enforced water quality laws and ordered sugar industries to clean up their spoils.

Join with us in calling on Governor Scott to stop the Florida agency from revoking the license agreement. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has met all aspects of the agreement, except for the eradication of Lygodium, an invasive climbing fern.

osprey-w-fishLoxahatchee comes from the Seminole meaning “River of Turtles.”  The Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is a mosaic of wet prairies, sawgrass ridges, sloughs, tree islands, cattail communities, and a 400-acre cypress swamp. The refuge provides essential wildlife habitats for King Rail, Limpkin, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, White and Glossy Ibis, Sandhill Crane, threatened Wood Storks, and endangered Everglade Snail Kites – home for 250 species of birds and two turtles, Peninsula Cooter and Florida Softshell.

See what others are saying both in the neighborhood and far, far away about how vital the Loxahatchee is. Add your voice and perspective to the chorus by commenting below.  Please include your name, town and state because the Loxahatchee NWR belongs to all of us.


“Management in partnership of the Loxahatchee NWR is working and the public is walking the raised trail in the largest remaining remnant of a cypress strand separating the pine flatwoods and Everglade marshes.”    Rob Moir, Ocean River Institute, Executive Director

As a Floridian and one who’s mom and brother live on the Loxahatchee with their home backing to a natural Everglades fed canal. I Desperately Ask you to continue the agreement and management of the Refuge.  All of the species that live and thrive there have been needed and loved by all for so long!!  “Gumbo Limbo” demonstrates all the good and necessary accomplishments they have made for the turtles. They and my family frequent that establishment often. PLEASE STOP SFWMD from from revoking the agreement. YOU can make this VITAL Difference, PLEASE HELP~~~WE NEED YOU~~~ Laurie Hein, Homosassa FL

“[Loxahatchee] turtles are the canaries in the coal mine.  We need to preserve the environment for creatures other than ourselves, or we will end up destroying it for ourselves as well.”    L.M. Holmes, Honolulu HI

“This wildlife refuge is an important means of providing sanctuary for hundreds of birds, plants and other animals living in this protected swamp area, especially turtles! Turtles are my favorite animals, so keeping this area of the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge open is very important to me. Please do your part to help save the turtles. Thank you in advance! :)”    Kistin West, Kewanee IL

“Wildlife is diappearing at an alarming rate everywhere.  Do not retreat from your commitment to manage the refuge to preserve the natural habitat for a rich array of wildlife.”    Mrion Tidwell, Merrillville IN

“There aren’t many places you can still enjoy the beauty of an undisturbed place like Loxahatchee. I love turtles and birds and want my granddaughter to be able to go there with me and enjoy the beauty. Please continue to co-manage this beautiful place with USFW for our children and their children. Thank you.”    Lara Beard, Elizabethtown KY

“It was working!”    Maureen Wheeler, Silver Spring MD

“Loxahatchee was part of the January term course . . . I often found wildlife there that students saw nowhere else during the trips.  It was an important educational resource.”    Vinnedge Lawrence, West Baldwin ME

“Hopefully, Florida will make good decisions about its environment and wildlife; and, hopefully, we will continue to visit Florida often to enjoy your natural resources and bring our vacation dollars to you.”    Annie McCombs, Kalamazoo MI

“I know and cherish the Loxahatchee. Please do not let it be degraded.”    Skip Lazell, Jackson MS

“Why would you give this up? Once it’s gone, there’s no getting it back and we need wild areas, desperately! We need to all step up to the plate to try to save our Earth. NASA isn’t going to magically figure out how to colonize somewhere else, you know.”  Susan Harrie, Grand Forks ND

“It includes a critical cypress stand habitat for hundreds of species including two species of rare turtles.”    Terry Forrest, Bristol TN

“It is very important to protect wildlife.  A wildlife refuge is an excellent way to help preserve and protect wildlife. Please support the continuation of the collaborative management of the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. Thank you.”  Salme Armijo, Blue Diamond NE

“I have been a resident of Florida and still have many family members who live in the state.   Florida has been ravaged by weather, the rising ocean level, and diseases.  CAN WE AT LEAST NOT DELIBERATELY destroy the Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge?”  Jeanne Bradbury, Flemington NJ

“Protect Florida wildlife by working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to protect the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge and the wildlife within.  The Refuge is a Florida treasure which you, as governor, should value and protect. Thank you.”  Susan Selbin, Albuquerque NM

“River of the Turtles, River of Promises, of Agreements and Collaborative Management.  Your governorship too was a promise to the people and the people do not exist separate from the land, the water, from Nature.  Neither people nor Nature are objects or abstraction.  Thank you for reflecting on your responsibility and promises and Please honor them.”  Edythe Ann Quinn, Unadilla NY

“Florida has a most unusual climate and ecosystem.  When endangered as it is from invasive flora and fauna extra efforts to contain and eradicate these threats must be taken, or you will lose it all.”  Lam Weisman, Oklahoma City OK

“Florida should not only preserve its unique treasures like this for ethical and moral grounds, it is also a money-maker and the principal reason that many of us visit the state.  We have nice sandy beaches here in New England, too, but we do not have the natural features of Loxahatchee Refuge, the Everglades, and the Keys.”  John Burridge, East Providence RI

“Please help save our National Wildlife areas of Florida. Please help control invasive plants in Loxahatchee , the River of Turtles. Please protect our last areas of wildlife and ecosystems.”  Linda Heagy, Arlington TX

“This is the only way that the natural treasure, the Great Florida Birding Trail of the Loxahatchee NWR, can be preserved!”   James Hadden, Grafton VA

“I visit FL almost once a year and the Loxahatchee Nat’l Wildlife Refuge has been a stop for me several times.  I am asking you to protect this place and all the animals that it contains. It is a jewel that Florida has. Please be strong in its protections and do not waver.”   Diane Clark, Woolwine VA

“We need these precious creatures to continue.”  Jennifer Planeta, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

“The loss of the Loxahatchee National Refuge means the death of the turtles dwelling there, and spells the death of hope for the Turtle River wildlife. Please let our common hope live on.”  Mai Hermann, Mercer Island WA

“We need to save what little land we have left, especially critical habitats such as the Loxahatchee.”  Angela Mayle, Fairview WV

“Please figure out other ways to manage the city’s waste water. Preserve the Loxahatchee for recreation and wildlife!”  Thomas Turiano, Wilson WY



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