Sanctuaries On Land And At Sea - Editorial

The Northern long-eared bat is in big trouble. Their population, along with other species of bats, is being decimated by white nose syndrome, a fungus that grows in white patches on bats’ noses. The fungus itself doesn’t do a great deal of harm, but it sets in while bats are hibernating, causing them to wake up when there is no food for them. Bats are dying in great numbers. Northern long-eared bats are on the verge of being declared an endangered species.

There is a little good news in the face of this tragic story. The Vineyard Gazette reported this week that wildlife scientists have found that white nose syndrome is not present on the island and there is an isolated population of long-eared bats there. They are working to figure out exactly how many are there, but at this point it appears that there is a sustaining population. The island, it appears, is in effect a sanctuary for the bats.

We’ve commented before on these fascinating little creatures. A summer cannot be complete without watching two or three of them flit noiselessly through the waning light of an evening. It is, it seems, the same sort of mystery as watching a field sparkling with lightning bugs. They are among Nature’s unique characters.

The wildlife biologists on the Vineyard are not only counting long-eared bats; they are also hoping to understand white nose syndrome better and how it spreads. The island is not only a sanctuary, it is a laboratory of sorts.

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Twelve years ago fisheries managers closed 550 square miles in the area of Cashes Ledge off Gloucester to fishing, creating an ocean sanctuary. The move was in response to declining stocks of cod and other groundfish.

The ledge itself had been previously protected by nature of the fact that it is too rocky to drag nets over, and it is rich with marine life.

Now, according to a story in the Sunday Boston Globe, fishermen are pressuring regulators to open areas near the ledge to fishing. The logic is that fishermen are regulated today by quotas instead of ocean closures, as had been the practice in the past. So they are only allowed to catch so many fish regardless of where they come from and, in that case, no area should be closed.

Fisheries managers should not give in to the pressure. What the fishermen’s logic misses is that it is not numbers of fish that the sanctuary protects, it is the ecosystem. For one, there are cod of unimaginable size there now, and big female cod lay eggs richer in fat than smaller fish. And there are thousands of other species, some commercially valuable, and many not. But it is how they interrelate that is important.

There are few places on this planet that mankind has not somehow managed to impact one way or the other. Cashes Ledge is not protected from everything, climate change for example, but it is protected from most human intervention. It should be kept that way.

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