Score another one for planet Earth: The president has signed off on the very first Marine National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean. New England’s new Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument will protect chubby octopuses, ancient sharks, and underwater chasms deeper than the Grand Canyon.
Unlike its cerulean cousin the Pacific, the Atlantic Ocean is not known for its beauty or colorful wildlife. But the new monument’s 4913-square-mile area is home to astonishing biological and geological diversity, including three submerged canyons (Oceanographer, Gilbert, and Lydonia) and four extinct underwater volcanoes (Mytilus, Bear, Physalia, and Retriever). Scientific expeditions through the area have spotted creatures great and small, from sperm whales to tiny crabs and jellies.
Dumbo octopus. Image Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Our Deepwater Backyard: Exploring Atlantic Canyons and Seamounts 2014
Dandelion siphonophore. Image Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Our Deepwater Backyard: Exploring Atlantic Canyons and Seamounts 2014
The area’s protections will extend above the surface to include seabirds like Atlantic puffins. It’s a region of immense natural beauty and value, but it—like the rest of our oceans—is in very real danger.
Project Puffin/Stephen W. Kress
Paramuriceid sea fan. Image Credit: NOAA OKEANOS Explorer Program, 2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition
Hydromedusa jelly. Image Credit: NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Our Deepwater Backyard: Exploring Atlantic Canyons and Seamounts 2014
This is why a coalition of 49 different ocean conservation organizations and aquaria wrote a letter this June [PDF] urging the president and his staff to put protections in place for the canyons and seamounts area. “While the area is largely untouched and wild today,” they wrote, “it is highly vulnerable to disturbance and should be protected now from the push to fish, drill, and mine in ever deeper and more remote places. As climate change and ocean acidification continue to affect ocean life, it also becomes more and more urgent to establish blue parks in important and relatively pristine ocean habitats such as this one.”
This week, their wish came true. Speaking at the 2016 Our Ocean Conference in Washington, D.C. on September 15, President Obama announced the monument’s official designation. “One of the reasons I ran for president was to make sure that America does our part to protect our planet for future generations,” he said. The president reminisced about his childhood in Hawaii, where he learned of the ocean’s “magic” and how “if the waves are a little too big and you’ve gone a little too far out, how it inspires fear and a healthy respect.”
President Obama spoke of the future, of our responsibility to keep our planet safe for future generations. “The notion that the ocean I grew up with is not something that I can pass on to my kids and my grandkids is unacceptable,” he said. “So the investment that all of us together make here today is vital for our economy. It's vital for our foreign policy. It’s vital for our national security. But it’s also vital for our spirit. It’s vital to who we are.”
Lee Crockett oversees ocean conservation for the Pew Charitable Trust. “For everyone who recognizes the value of this unique ecosystem and cherishes a healthy, productive ocean, this monument designation is a huge win,” he said in a press statement.
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