Protecting Ocean Ecosystems

Marine National Monuments Make Sense

The highest peak of Cashes Ledge, Ammen Rock, rises to within 40 feet of the ocean surface and harbors the deepest and largest cold-water kelp forest on the Atlantic seaboard. Photo credit: Brian Skerry / New England Ocean Odyssey

On Wednesday, September 29, members of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Water, Power, and Oceans discussed and heard testimony from witnesses on potential Marine National Monument designations in the Atlantic Ocean and off the coast of Alaska.

Comments leaned heavily towards condemning ocean conservation efforts by way of the Antiquities Act, but as New England Aquarium CEO Nigella Hillgarth says in her recent op-ed, “Let’s hope they also heard the urgency of acting before it is too late to set aside some unique and special places in our oceans for the benefit of current and future generations.”

Preserving our natural heritage

In his opening statement, Ranking Member Congressman Jared Huffman spoke in favor of the Antiquities Act – quoting President Teddy Roosevelt more than once – and of the importance of “preserv[ing] our country’s natural and cultural heritage…in perpetuity for the benefit of all Americans.”

As emphasized by Congressman Huffman, in the United States, we protect far more land areas than those in the ocean. In the case of using the Antiquities Act to designate marine monuments, Congressman Huffman said it was a shame that we don’t protect more ocean areas, “because America’s coral reefs, kelp forests, and submarine canyons have incredible value as fish factories, as banks of biodiversity.” He also mentioned economic benefits, saying that “protecting key habitats can improve fisheries in adjacent areas, leading to healthier coastal economies.”

Our oceans offer us a wealth of resources and benefits, many of which we have yet to discover, and we have an obligation to preserve those for future generations. As a nation, we have made efforts to balance conservation and industry interests on land, and, as Huffman notes, “it is completely appropriate for us to move towards a similar balance with respect to utilization of our ocean resources.”

As a clear champion for the Antiquities Act and Marine National Monuments, Congressman Huffman concluded his remarks:

“Particularly in the face of climate change and ocean acidification, we must use whatever authorities are available to us [emphasis added] to ensure our ocean ecosystems remain healthy and productive.”

The science is clear – Monuments make sense

Testifying witness Dr. Andrew Rosenberg underscored the Congressman’s statements by emphasizing the ecological value of designating marine monuments in areas that “are a critical part of the large marine ecosystem of the Northeastern United States.” Dr. Rosenberg is currently the Director of the Center for Science and Democracy at Massachusetts-based Union of Concerned Scientists, and has also previously served as Northeast Regional Administrator of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, Deputy Director of NOAA Fisheries, and as Dean of Life Sciences and Agriculture at the University of New Hampshire.

These areas not only “are unique and play important role in the productivity of our oceans,” but also “directly support human well-being from fisheries, to resilience to ongoing effects of climate change.”

According to Dr. Rosenberg, “MPAs can be an effective management tool,” and in light of current environmental crises, such as overfishing and climate change, Dr. Rosenberg emphasized to the subcommittee:

“One of the most important attributes of MPAs is that they provide a ‘hedge’ against rapid increases in fishing pressure or the impacts of other activities including the ongoing effects of a changing climate…there is good scientific evidence that parts of an ecosystem that are largely intact are far more resilient to the effects of a changing climate than those that are already heavily exploited.”

We can’t wait any longer to protect these important ecosystems. Acting now, while these areas are still pristine, “is far easier, more efficient, and less disruptive.”

As Dr. Rosenberg stated: “The idea of Marine National Monuments makes sense.” We agree.


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