04162014Wed
Last updateFri, 11 Apr 2014 12pm

Massachusetts Stellwagen Bank

An Atlantic wolfish shelters under the Unidentified Trawler shipwreck’s net reel.  Photo by Matthew Lawrence, NOAA/SBNMS
A diver explores the Unidentified Trawler’s wheelhouse.  Archaeologists suspect that its unusually shaped windows are the clue that leads to its identity.  Photo by Matthew Lawrence, NOAA/SBNMS
Dive sites in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Courtesy NOAA/SBNMS
Cod hide amongst the scattered boulders at the Sponge Forest dive site.  One codfish has suffered a bite to its tail, a sign of predator/prey interaction.  Photo by Matthew Lawrence, NOAA/SBNMS
Divers visiting the F/V Patriot are usually rewarded with good visibility and schooling fish, but must navigate around entangled fishing nets.  Photo by Matthew Lawrence, NOAA/SBNMS

While many of New England’s popular dive spots are relatively close to shore, some excellent diving can be found further afield. Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary’s position between Cape Ann and Cape Cod offers divers a chance to explore different environments at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay,

where strong currents and exposed waters create challenging dive conditions. Surprisingly, fifteen percent of the sanctuary, equivalent to 126 square miles of seafloor, is shallower than 130 feet at low tide.

Designated by Congress in 1992, the 842-square mile Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary is managed by the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  Divers are likely familiar with other National Marine Sanctuaries around the Florida Keys or Monterey Bay on the central California coast.  The National Marine Sanctuaries value divers as conservationists who are intimately knowledgeable of the marine environment and the challenges our oceans face.  This year, 2012, marks the 40th anniversary of our National Marine Sanctuaries, and the 20th anniversary of the Stellwagen Bank sanctuary.  Please visit http://stellwagen.noaa.gov to learn about the celebratory events planned to commemorate this momentous year.

Sanctuary dive sites include shipwrecks and natural habitat areas on Stellwagen Bank, Sanctuary Hill, and Jeffreys Ledge. The sanctuary is home to a variety of colorful and interesting marine life. What you will see depends upon the environment you visit.

In the sand and gravel areas on top of Stellwagen Bank you may encounter sand lance schools and monkfish, while the boulders on Jeffreys Ledge hide Atlantic wolffish.  At nearly every location you will encounter large sponges and anemones encrusting rocks or shipwreck structure.  You are also likely to see sculpins, sea ravens, flounders, cunner, skates, and cod on most dives. Schools of dogfish or pollock make dives particularly exciting.

Diving offshore brings additional challenges to dive safety.  Consult the National Weather Service marine forecast for the area you plan to visit as conditions offshore may be different than what you are experiencing locally.  The sanctuary’s marine forecast and offshore weather buoy reports can be found at http://stellwagen.noaa.gov/visit/weatherandsea.html.

In addition to changeable weather, you may experience strong currents. Plan your dive around slack tide for the best conditions. Slack tide on Stellwagen Bank can best be judged by subtracting 30 minutes from slack tide at the Boston Light or Race Point tide stations.  Your best diving window may open an hour or more before slack tide.  Arrive at your dive site early to judge the current.  

Another hazard divers may encounter is fishing gear. Gill nets pose the greatest threat because they are hard to see and designed to ensnare. Additionally, monofilament line, lobster pot lines, and derelict trawl nets can also catch unaware divers.

Dive vessels should fly the appropriate dive flags as the sanctuary is frequently transited by both American and foreign-flagged ships. Also be aware that a portion of the sanctuary is located in the shipping lanes for vessels coming into or out of the port of Boston. Visit the sanctuary’s website for a list of dive charters that may run trips to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. The address for the list is:
http://stellwagen.noaa.gov/visit/diving/divecharter.html.

Sanctuary Regulations Pertaining to Divers
Divers visiting the sanctuary must abide by regulations that protect historical resources and marine mammals. Divers are prohibited from moving, removing or injuring, or attempting to move, remove or injure, or possess a sanctuary historical resource. Divers are not permitted to grapple or tie a down line onto a historic shipwreck.
Diving to purposely interact with whales is considered harassment under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

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