Protecting Ocean Ecosystems

Looking out for our future: Obama designates the first Atlantic Marine National Monument

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument protects thriving deep-sea coral communities. Image courtesy of NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program.

Today, President Obama will announce designation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, recognizing the area for its scientific importance and making history for our region and nation. The president’s action, which is an authority granted to him by Congress under the Antiquities Act, will create the only landscape-scale, fully protected marine area in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean – preserving this area now and forever.

Over the last year, this story has been largely framed as a debate between environmentalists and the fishing industry, but today’s announcement should be viewed as a victory for all. A marine monument grants long-lasting protections for all habitats and myriad species – including commercially important fish – in this special area of the ocean.

On an expedition in 2013, scientists documented at least 70 types of coral in the area – 24 of which had never before been seen in the region. The deep-sea corals, schools of mackerel, tunas, sharks, whales, and seabirds all found in here will now have the opportunity to thrive without threat from commercial activity. In a rapidly industrializing ocean, this is a rarity.

Additionally, scientists believe that marine protected areas increase resiliency to climate change. And, as the ocean waters off New England are rapidly heating, with the Gulf of Maine warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans, preserving the Canyons and Seamounts is a pivotal step in the fight against climate change. Scientists will be able to use the protected area to study climate change and better understand its impacts in our region. Better scientific understanding will produce better management of the ocean for all wildlife that is found there.

These benefits come with some sacrifices for some individuals within the fishing industry, who will have to relocate their operations outside the monument area. But those concerns were listened to at a public meeting, multiple stakeholder round-tables, and a year-long open comment period. In the long run, permanent protection of the productive resources found in this area – an area that encompasses less than 2 percent of the U.S. territory along the East Coast – can help the surrounding ecosystem and can support the many parts of New England’s economy that benefit from healthy ocean ecosystems.

This isn’t just another environmentalist versus fishing industry debate; the ocean and its wildlife don’t belong to any one stakeholder interest. A healthy ocean is advantageous for everyone, and future generations will celebrate the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument for what it is: a unique biodiversity hotspot worthy of protection.


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