Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument under fire

On September 15th, 2016, President Barak Obama designated the first Marine National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. An area, 4,913 square miles, off the coast of New England, it houses the only four seamounts in the U.S. Atlantic and three canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon. It is also home to fragile deep-sea coral communities and important feeding grounds for many protected species such as whales and sea turtles. Known to be a biodiversity hotspot, deeply rich with life, but threatened by human activity, designating this area as a Marine National Monument ensures it’s protection and a thriving future.

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. Map: NOAA

Recreational fishing is allowed within the Marine National Monument boundaries, but commercial fishing activity is prohibited as fishing gear has the potential to damage this sensitive and important ecosystem. Also prohibited is the exploration for oil and mining activities. Scientific research has been conducted for decades in this area, studying the ecosystem’s unique geologic structures and vast array of species. Protecting this area from destructive activity is imperative if we are to continue exploring all of the delicate nuances this habitat has to offer.

Sadly, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts monument is being threatened again as President Trump has asked the Department of the Interior to review currently protected areas where boundaries and limitations can be modified, or the designation of the area as a National Monument rescinded all together. Priorities lie with oil and mining explorations with the new administration.

Other opposing views to the Marine National Monument are coming from fishery managers (especially on the New England Fisheries Management Council) and commercial fishermen—largely one and the same—who usually oppose closed areas because they want to remain more in control of what’s done to public resources and wildlife everywhere.

Sunset on the Atlantic Ocean. Photo by Erica Cirino

About this, author and professor of marine sciences Carl Safina says, “Of course they’re opposed. But if they did a good job, we wouldn’t need protected areas. These areas need to be protected from them, because they have taken too much and they use fishing gear that harms habitat and degrades the ability of fragile ocean areas to produce fish and other marine life.”

The future of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts as a Marine National Monument is uncertain. Help us offer hope for the continued protection of this national treasure by sending a letter to the Department of the Interior in opposition to altering the area’s current state in any way. Send your comments here, by July 10th. Make your voice heard!

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