Gulf of Maine Coastal Program
Northeast Region

About the gulf of Maine

Bathymetry image of the gulf of Maine.
Bathymetry image of the gulf of Maine. Credit: USFWS

Bounded by the northeastern United States to the east, the Canadian Maritime Provinces to the north and offshore banks to the east, the Gulf of Maine is a semi-enclosed sea. The land area of the Gulf of Maine watershed includes nearly 70,000 square miles. Together, the land and the sea provide rich habitats that federally threatened and endangered species and other many wide-ranging animals--such as migratory birds, diadromous (searun) fish and marine mammals--depend on for their survival

Estuaries, where fresh river water and salty ocean water mingle, provide productive nurseries for many marine species, vital habitat for diadromous (searun) fish, and important feeding and roosting grounds for breeding and migrating waterbirds. Salt marshes provide food and cover for fish, as well as breeding and migratory habitat for shorebirds, wading birds and waterfowl. Salt marshes also serve as a natural water purification system. Mudflats abound with animal life. Huge concentrations of worms, clams, molluscs and crustaceans survive just below the surface, providing a bounty of food for people and waterbirds.

Image of a piping plover.
Piping plover. Credit: USFWS

Sand beaches provide habitat for two rare bird species--the least tern and the piping plover. Intertidal and nearshore subtidal habitats support marine algae which provide home for a broad array of organisms, including scallops, flounder, urchins, lobster, and migratory waterbirds. Islands provide critical resting habitat for seals, breeding habitat for seabirds and bald eagles, and vital feeding and roosting areas for migratory shorebirds and neotropical migrants.

Healthy lakes, ponds, rivers and their forested surroundings provide wildlife-rich arteries of life that directly link inland forests and mountains with the bounty of the sea. Inland habitats provide homes for bald eagles and raptors, loons, waterfowl, wading birds and other birds. Coastal waters support many of the same species, as well as shorebirds, seabirds and marine mammals. Rivers provide migratory routes for once-abundant runs of diadromous fish, including Atlantic salmon, alewives, blueback herring, American shad, American eel, striped bass, sea lamprey, rainbow smelt, tomcod, two species of sturgeon and searun brook trout. These searun fish play a critical role in providing forage for many other fish, birds and furbearing mammals--inland and on the coast.

Picture of baby (or glass) eels.
Baby (or glass) eels. © Doug Watts

Cold oxygen-laden water subject to constant movement, mixing and upwelling creates a nutrient-laden Gulf of Maine marine environment--one of the world's most productive continental shelf communities. Many who live on the shores of the Gulf of Maine appreciate its biological wealth and have nourished themselves from its bounty. However, habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation, wetland and associated upland loss, overharvesting, oil spills, pollution and other cumulative effects of development threaten the integrity of the Gulf ecosystem. The Gulf of Maine Coastal Program is dedicated to work with partners to reduce the threats by protecting and restoring habitat--for fish, for wildlife and for all of us.

Last updated: September 5, 2013

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