Protecting Ocean Ecosystems

Happy Anniversary to the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts!

A Graneledone verrucosa octopus on Bear Seamount. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Deep Connections 2019.

This Sunday, September 15th marks three years since President Obama designated the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument – the first and only marine national monument in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean. The monument provides full and permanent protection from human activities such as commercial fishing and oil and gas drilling. Without these threats, the marine life and habitats found within the monument’s boundaries – humpback whales, Atlantic puffins, countless shark and fish species, fragile deep-sea corals – can thrive.

An Underwater World to Explore

In the days leading up to this year’s anniversary, researchers onboard NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer used an ROV to dive into the depths of the monument and collect new information about the area, as well as surrounding waters. As one researcher put it, it was an opportunity to “stop and smell the starfish.”

Over four days, researchers explored one canyon (Oceanographer) and two seamounts (Bear and Retriever) within the monument. A pancake urchin, pearl fish, chimaera, and octopus were just a few of our favorite sightings seen via the livestream.

While we tuned into the Okeanos expedition, and now as we celebrate the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts’s anniversary, we are reminded about the numerous benefits the monument provides and the need for more protected areas like it.

The Benefits of Protection

Earlier this year, the Center for American Progress released a report identifying the fisheries benefits of highly protected ocean areas. These benefits include (1) an increase in total biomass, (2) an increase in the number of individual species, and (3) larger-sized organisms. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts is the only highly protected ocean area along the U.S. East Coast and is just a first step in realizing these benefits for New England.

Protecting more places like the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts is essential as demand on our ocean and its resources increases and, even more so, as our ocean faces the impacts of climate change. Already we are seeing shifting fish populations and new predator-prey relationships in response to warming waters. Also, a recent UN report revealed that we have an extinction crisis on our hands: up to one million species could face extinction within decades, including more than a third of marine mammals and sharks. By safeguarding the most special places in our ocean, we can help preserve long-term ocean health – including healthy fisheries – and build more resilient ocean ecosystems.

So, on the third anniversary of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, let’s celebrate this beautiful ecosystem, but let’s not stop there. Let’s look to the future for how we can better protect our ocean and support healthy fisheries.


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