A Sigh of Relief for Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Monument

“Feather star” crinoids on bamboo coral. Image: NOAA OKEANOS Explorer Program

by Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer

The U.S. has only one marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean, and its existence won’t face a Supreme Court challenge this year. The court declined to hear a case challenging President Obama’s 2016 designation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.

  • The underwater monument is about 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod and is home to ancient deep-sea corals, endangered whales, and a wide variety of fish, seabirds, and other marine life.
  • This was the latest in a series of challenges from fishing industry groups trying to destroy the moment by opening it to commercial fishing.  

Why This Matters: This court decision stops the monument from being abolished, but there’s still work to do. An executive order from President Trump allowed commercial fishing in the monument, undermining its ability to protect marine life. The Biden administration is reviewing that action and can reinstate proper protections. Beyond defending the marine monuments already in existence, we need more protected areas (MPAs) in the ocean. Creating MPAs is a triple investment in the future: they draw down carbon, keep whole ecosystems thriving, and help sustainably support fisheries

Read more about the scientific case for marine national monuments.

Corals in New England: Coral reefs might not come to mind when you think of New England, but the Canyons and Seamounts are home to more than 50 species of coral living around 4,000 feet below the ocean’s surface. These deep-sea corals grow slowly without sunlight — the ones in the monument are anywhere from hundreds to thousands of years old! Check out photos of the corals (and a bunch of other amazing wildlife like octopi and sea stars) from one of NOAA’s deep-sea dives into the canyons.

Pacific Marine National Monuments: Most of the U.S. waters protected as marine national monuments are in the Pacific Ocean, where there are four:

  • Pacific Remote Islands — created by President Bush in 2009 and expanded by President Obama in 2014, the seven islands and atolls are home to unique corals; some communities have suffered near-complete coral bleaching events in recent years.
  • Rose Atoll —created by President Bush in 2009, this monument off of American Samoa, species that are dying in other parts of the world still thrive here, like giant clams and  large parrotfishes.
  • Papahānaumokuākea — created by President Bush in 2006 and expanded by President Obama in 2016, it’s the single largest fully protected conservation area in the United States, and one of the largest marine protected areas in the world.
  • Marianas Trench — created by President Bush in 2009, it’s one of the deepest places on Earth. Located east of the Philippines, the monument protects very deep-sea formations, including the “Champagne vent,” which is one of the only places on earth that produces pure liquid carbon dioxide.  

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