Happy Birthday #6 for Canyons and Seamounts Monument!

Whale Shark in the Canyons and Seamounts Monument

Credit: New England Aquarium

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument was created six years ago today, on September 15, 2016, by President Barack Obama. About the size of the State of Connecticut and approximately 150 miles off Cape Cod, the Monument encompasses four seamounts as tall as any mountain east of the Rockies and three large submarine canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon. This spectacular ocean wilderness is home to rare whales, iconic New England seabirds like Atlantic puffins, deep-sea coral colonies thousands of years old, and a seemingly endless variety of fish and invertebrates.

It's been generally an excellent year for the Monument. To recap:

  • Most significantly, on October 8th, 2021, President Biden signed a proclamation reversing the Trump Administration’s illegal rollback of Monument protections. President Biden’s proclamation made the Monument once again one of only a handful of areas off the continental U.S. that has been set aside to be free of all commercial extractive activity, the type of marine protected area that science shows is the most effective in helping to conserve biodiversity and enhancing ecosystem resilience, structure and function, as well as providing a laboratory for studying the impacts of climate change and other human impacts on our oceans.
  • A peer-reviewed study published in January 2022 found no evidence that the Monument has harmed the commercial fishing industry. The study analyzed catch levels, location of fishing activity, and the distance traveled to fish before and after the 2016 proclamation as well as before and after the Trump rollback in June 2020. In other words, the Monument is not only preserving biodiversity and enhancing climate resilience but is doing so cost-effectively.
  • A peer-reviewed study published in March 2022 showed that the Monument is a hotspot of marine mammal diversity. Based on an analysis of sightings of more than 1 million marine mammals along the Atlantic Coast, including in the Monument, scientists from the New England Aquarium found that the Monument contained more marine mammal species diversity than virtually any other comparably sized area.
  • In early August, the Mystic Aquarium celebrated its new exhibit about marine national monuments, which spotlights the Canyons and Seamounts Monument. The exhibit is immersive and moving (certainly for me!), and a must-see if you are in the area.
  • Most recently, on August 23rd, New England Aquarium scientists conducted their most recent aerial survey of marine mammal activity in the Monument. Similar to previous surveys, the scientists saw more than 500 animals, including fin whales, pilot whales, and a whale shark (a quite rare sighting!).


For sure, this year’s news for the Monument hasn’t all been good. In April 2022, two commercial fishermen plaintiffs filed a new lawsuit challenging the Monument’s legality. The lawsuit is largely a retread of the commercial fishing industry’s failed 2017 legal challenge. In this newest lawsuit, NRDC and our partners—Conservation Law Foundation, Center for Biological Diversity, and a whale-watch naturalist in Maine—have again intervened to defend the Monument.

We are confident that Monument is here to stay—and we look forward to many more anniversary celebrations!

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