President Creates First Marine National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean

In October, President Obama attended the 3rd annual Our Ocean Conference in Washington D.C. During his address he announced that he would designate the first marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of New England as the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.

The President spoke about the many threats that ocean ecosystems face, including overfishing, pollution, and ship traffic. “The more of those threats that we eliminate through conservation, the more resilient those ecosystems will be to the consequences of climate change,” he said. “So today we’re building on this approach by establishing the first marine national monument in the Atlantic. We’re protecting fragile ecosystems off the coast of New England, including pristine undersea canyons and seamounts. We’re helping make the oceans more resilient to climate change, and this will help fishermen better understand the changes that are taking place that will affect their livelihood. And we’re doing it in a way that respects the fishing industry’s unique role in New England’s economy and history.”

The new national monument, located off the coast of New England on the edge of Georges Bank, encompasses 4,913 square miles of pristine underwater mountains and canyons that provide critical protections for important ecological resources and marine species, including deep sea coral and endangered whales and sea turtles.

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument includes two areas: one that includes four undersea mountains – Bear, Mytilus, Physalia, and Retriever; and an area that includes three undersea canyons – Oceanographer, Lydonia, and Gilbert that cut deep into the continental shelf. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will manage the monument.

These areas are home to deep-sea coral ecosystems with rich biodiversity and unique species. Additionally, these geographic features result in oceanographic conditions that concentrate pelagic species, including whales, dolphins, and turtles; and highly migratory fish such as tunas, bullfish, and sharks. A large number of birds also rely on this area for foraging. The monument will serve as an increasingly important refuge for the region’s sea life.

There was global good news that came out of the Conference. More than 20 countries in attendance announced the creation of 40 significant new marine protected areas, totaling nearly 460,000 square miles of ocean. The nations of the world have protected more than 900,000 square miles of ocean in 2016, exceeding last year’s record of more than 730,000 square miles.

Photo courtesy of NOAA

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