The Gulf of Maine
is the Gulf of Maine?
How and when did the Gulf of Maine come to be
shaped the way it is?
About 15 million years ago, the Gulf region was exposed as dry land subject to exposure and erosion for thousands of years.
Everything changed dramatically between 20,000 and 13,000 years ago when a mile-thick glacial sheet advanced and retreated over the landscape, scouring out softer rocks to create the deep Jordans, Wilkinsons, and Browns basins (1). The glaciers also deposited sediments to form landmasses we know today as the drumlins of Boston Harbor, the moraines of Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard just south of the Gulf, and Georges and Browns Banks.
As the glaciers melted in their final retreat, they released huge amounts of freshwater which scoured out river beds and flowed down the Northeast Channel, that great sluice at the mouth of the Gulf of Maine between the banks which serves as the primary pathway to the open Atlantic. Then the sea began to rise, and rise, and rise high enough that it covered the banks and flooded the valleys. All the while, the land began a slow process of rebound as it was released from all the weight of the glaciers, a process that is still occurring today (2).
Things are changing though. Starting in the second half of the twentieth century, communities along the rim of the Gulf began facing dramatic changes in their traditional seafaring culture. Many fisheries have been exhausted, including the great cod fishery, which is now severely limited, causing people to explore alternatives with great creativity and resilience. As a result, new fisheries have emerged from previously unmarketed species. Aquaculture farms are sprouting up in many bays and coves. The Internet is giving the economy an added boost. And tourism, the world's fastest growing industry, has hit the scene on a grand scale. The Gulf of Maine, now more than ever, is of immense value for New England, Canada, and the world.
The lure of nature-based tourism brings more and more people to the Gulf's coast, its islands, beaches, and salt marshes. Both in this region and the world over, ecotourism and outdoor recreation are increasing at a rate faster than any other form of tourism. Tourists and outdoor enthusiasts, by their sheer numbers, have the potential to cause the greatest ecological crisis or the greatest conservation opportunity for the Gulf of Maine.
All photos on this page by Natalie Springuel.
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