Federal Court Protects Northeast Canyons and Seamounts’ Marine Monument Status

The decision is a major victory for the first and only monument in the Atlantic Ocean—and for all U.S. marine monuments.
Credit: NOAA

The decision is a major victory for the first and only monument in the Atlantic Ocean—and for all U.S. marine monuments.

A federal court dismissed a case brought on by fishing industry groups, which attacked one of the country’s most unique ocean ecosystems: the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, a national marine monument designated by President Obama in 2016.

The court rejected the industry groups’ argument that the president does not have the authority to protect ocean areas and marine resources under the Antiquities Act—which is a significant win for not only the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts but also for all marine monuments. “[J]ust as President Roosevelt had the authority to establish the Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg, “so President Obama could establish the Canyons and Seamounts Monument in 2016.”

“As today’s decision recognizes, the Antiquities Act exists to protect special places for all time, and that includes protecting ocean ecosystems from destructive extractive activities like commercial fishing and oil and gas drilling,” says Kate Desormeau, an attorney for NRDC, which joined other conservation groups to intervene in the case.

The first and only marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument features a dramatic underwater terrain, with canyons that rival the depth of the Grand Canyon and steep underwater mountains higher than anything east of the Rockies. It’s also a biological hot spot teeming with ancient coral, giant fish, and undiscovered species, as well as an important nursery area for dolphins and whales.

Alongside other conservation groups, NRDC has advocated for the protection of this area for years, part of a push that finally led to its national monument status in 2016. Today’s win comes against a backdrop of attacks on federally protected lands and sensitive ocean ecosystems—all of which face more environmental threats than ever before—for the sake of industry.

“Scientists agree that protecting ocean areas like Northeast Canyons and Seamounts from extractive use is essential for supporting species resiliency in the face of environmental pressures like climate change,” Desormeau says.