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A sea urchin (center) surrounded by corals in the NE Canyons and Seamounts Monument Photo: Luis Lamar, National Geographic
At the end of December, an appeals court in Washington, D.C. upheld the designation by President Obama of the first national “monument” in the Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Monument off the coast of Cape Cod, an area teeming with unique and endangered wildlife (such as North Atlantic Right Whales) and a spectacular topography of deep canyons and extinct volcanic peaks. The monument was challenged by the fishing industry who argued that Obama exceeded his authority under the Antiquities Act that allows Presidents to designate special places and things as protected without a long rule-making process.
Why This Matters: This is a clear win for the conservation of natural resources. The area covered by the monument is full of ocean wonders and is as deserving of protection as similarly precious places on land — like Yellowstone or Yosemite. When President Trump took office, he immediately took aim at national monuments and eventually reduced Grand Staircase-Escalante by 45% and Bears Ears by 85%. At the time he threatened to do the same to the NE Canyons and Seamounts saying that President Obama had exceeded his authority to designate the Atlantic ocean area a monument. This court decision by a three-judge panel including a Reagan appointee makes clear that Obama was well within his authority. And it provides more support for the legal challenges to the reductions Trump made to the two other monuments. Numerous environmental organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Earth Justice, Center for American Progress, National Ocean Protection Coalition and Conservation Law Foundation, worked hard to defend the monument even after the Trump administration sided with the fishing groups.
The Monument’s Wonders
The wondrous resources contained in the monument area are hard to see due to its remote location, but they have been studied extensively by the government and private scientists. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the monument is a pristine area and “contains a mosaic of diverse habitat types, ranging from the rich shelf break environment around the canyon heads to the exotic deep-sea environment of the seamounts that rise thousands of feet off the lower continental slope, that contribute to an unusually high number and abundance of species. These include 73 different types of deep-sea corals, two dozen of which were recently discovered for the first time in the region and some of which live for thousands of years and grow several meters in height.” Research into deep-sea organisms is important to understanding the ocean and could lead to medical breakthroughs.
By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer Last summer, Florida created its first aquatic preserve in over 30 years. The Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve protects about 400,000 acres of seagrass just north of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf coast. These are part of the Gulf of Mexico’s largest seagrass bed and borders other existing preserves, creating a […]
A new study has found that whale songs can be a powerful tool for mapping the ocean floor. Seismic testing done by humans can harm whales and other marine life, but by using whale songs instead, scientists believe the practice can be adapted to be much less harmful to marine populations.
Why This Matters: For years, the fossil fuel industry has hauled “seismic guns” behind large boats, blasting loud, harmful bursts of sound that disturb sea life and impair the sonar of animals like whales and dolphins.
Much as our national parks on land are some of our greatest natural treasures, marine national monuments safeguard precious ecosystems and protect them now and for future generations. The National Marine Sanctuary System encompasses more than 600,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters, and contains amazing cultural and historical resources, as well as […]
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