Protecting Ocean Ecosystems

Diverse Stakeholders Voice Their Support at NOAA Town Hall Meeting

A juvenile cunner swims through healthy kelp forest at Cashes Ledge. Photo credit: Brian Skerry/NEOO.

Last night, stakeholders from around New England gathered at a town hall meeting in Providence, RI to provide comment to NOAA on a possible Marine Monument designation in the Atlantic Ocean.

The meeting, originally scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m., ran over an hour late as NOAA Regional Administrator John Bullard and Senior Advisor to the Undersecretary Christine Blackburn worked their way through six pages of speaker names. Although NOAA did not make clear the proposal that was on the table, people came ready to discuss their vision for a marine national monument designation. NOAA publicized the meeting as a discussion about three deep-sea canyons (Oceanographer, Gilbert, and Lydonia) and four seamounts, but it was clear that the speakers were interested in discussing protections for the Cashes Ledge Area and the Nygren and Heezen canyons as well.

Overall, speakers commented largely in favor of permanent protection for the Cashes Ledge Closed Area and the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts. Marine ecologists Dr. Jon Witman and Dr. Peter Auster spoke to the scientific importance of Cashes Ledge and the canyons and seamounts, respectively. Each presented letters that included hundreds of supporting signatures of prominent marine scientists from across the country. Also in support were elected officials, coastal business owners, members of the education and academia community, recreational fishermen, faith-based leaders, and more.

Those opposed to the proposal described the current protections for Cashes Ledge, placed there by the New England Fishery Management Council, as sufficient. Yes, it is true that Cashes Ledge Closed Area has been closed to most commercial fishing practices for over a decade; however, it remains open to large mid-water trawls, which yield significant bycatch and can destroy essential habitat. The accounts made last night describing the reasons why the Council has protected Cashes Ledge only reaffirm the case to permanently protect the area. The Cashes Ledge Closed Area serves as an important refuge habitat for New England ocean life; let’s keep it this way forever.

Fishermen also repeatedly noted that their gear would not damage the deep-sea corals; however, the marine mammals that utilize the water column are still at risk of entanglement. And ultimately, this is about more than fishing. This is about protection from all human threats.

As emphasized last night by majority of speakers, New Englanders have a responsibility to the ocean. The ocean is our heritage, and the opportunity to protect that heritage is now.

NOAA is still collecting comments on permanent protection in the Atlantic. Over 160,000 Americans have already commented in support of a Marine National Monument. Please sign the petition today asking President Obama to designate the Cashes Ledge Area and the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts as the Atlantic’s first Marine National Monument.


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