At a time of year when I’m dreaming about getting under the water but not tough enough to do it for more than a few seconds, I was recently able to take a virtual underwater trip at Bath’s Maine Maritime Museum as a part of a new exhibit there. The exhibit, “SeaChange: Darkness & Light in the Gulf of Maine,” just opened and will run through the end of this year.

The exhibit features Cashes Ledge, an underwater mountain range that is about 80 miles off the coast of Cape Ann in Massachusetts. While this might seem out of range to write about from Maine, Cashes Ledge is part of the Gulf of Maine and thus part of the whole ecosystem that it supports. It is a particularly unique place because of its topography — a nearly 10-mile stretch of tall peaks that stretch up from depths of around 100 feet. As you might imagine, this complex structure provides a great variety of habitats for marine life, including the Atlantic’s largest cold-water kelp forest, one of the many features illustrated in the SeaChange exhibit. This kelp forest is perfect for providing hiding places for young fish, one of the reasons that it is closed off to commercial fishing. The New England Fishery Management Council has put restrictions in place to protect the ledge from fishing in recognition of its value as a nursery for surrounding fishing areas and to the overall ecosystem.

SeaChange is an exhibit as visually unique as the place it celebrates. It was created in partnership with Gulf of Maine EcoArt, a project-based nonprofit that brings together artists and scientists to create pieces that raise awareness of the Gulf of Maine’s ecosystem. In addition to the participating artists, the group has also worked with students to turn marine debris and recycled material into whimsical creations like jellyfish and lobsters. Some of those creations, including those from students at the Maine College of Art, were a part of the current exhibit.

In addition to the sculptural components of the exhibit, SeaChange includes video projections that make you feel like you are surrounded by water and lit-up, tiny ocean residents like diatoms and other plankton that dangle from the ceiling. In order to provide more of the informational aspects, there is also an interactive gallery that explains what various organizations are doing to protect the Gulf of Maine. It also describes the impacts that humans have on its ecosystem and what people can do to minimize those impacts.

As an accompaniment to the exhibit, there will be a series of a dozen lectures on Thursday evenings beginning Feb. 23. The SeaChange lectures series is free and open to the public, but registration is requested at Topics include facilitating the blue economy, the science of climate change, the future of fisheries and Wabanaki conservation initiatives. There are ample opportunities to visit during the months of February and March when admission is free on the weekends.

So, if you have a hankering to get under the water, this is a great immersive way to learn about a vibrant underwater ecosystem — all while staying warm and dry.

Susan Olcott is the director of operations at Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association.

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