Today is World Oceans Day—and a global celebration couldn’t be more apt, since the seas unite us all, biologically and economically. Some, when they think of our communal oceans, might think only of vast, blue expanses, but deep within them exist communities as dense and varied—and as grand (in a different way) —as the metropolises we’ve constructed. Many are not that far away, either. For instance, an underwater channel that extends from the New York/New Jersey Harbor drops suddenly into a steep submarine canyon at the edge of the continental shelf. This canyon, called Hudson Canyon, is just one of string of such canyons running from Cape Hatteras to east of Cape Cod. They contain landscapes with contours not unlike Arizona’s Grand Canyon, only flooded. Hard to believe? Watch this new NRDC film, Ocean Oases, narrated by Philippe Cousteau, about both the Atlantic canyons and several equally-spectacular nearby dormant volcanoes called seamounts that rise thousands of feet from the ocean depths.
The Atlantic canyons and seamounts are home to an extraordinary universe of life, from a living seafloor of vibrant and rare coldwater corals, anemones and sponges all the way up the food chain to an array of marine mammals, like the endangered sperm whale, which has the largest brain of any animal (up to 20 pounds), is the world’s deepest-diving mammal, and can eat up to a ton of squid and fish a day. The rich waters of many of the canyons are also important fishing spots, attracting commercial and recreational fishermen alike to the schools of squid and mackerel and the bigger (sometime much bigger) fish like marlin, tuna, and swordfish that feed on them.
As the film explains, humans haven’t yet invaded the deep and pristine recesses of these unique ocean features. But this may not last. New “canyon buster” and “rock hopper” trawling gear make fishing along the bottom – as opposed to higher in the water column -- of these previously-inaccessible areas now possible. With a single pass of such a “bottom trawling” net, we can destroy habitats so colorful they might rival Times Square, if only light filtered that deep, including corals that have taken hundreds of years to grow. And seismic oil and gas exploration is poised to begin off the Eastern Seaboard, which not only presages potential drilling, but also is in itself harmful to marine mammals, as you’ll learn in the film.
NRDC is working to ensure that our ocean canyons and seamounts aren’t scoured or their resources irretrievably harmed. To date, four Atlantic canyons have been declared off-limits to harmful bottom trawling, and we’re working with regional fisheries councils to make sure more are recognized for the amazing environments that they are. And we’ll be objecting to any proposals to use harmful seismic testing methods in the canyons (the next opportunity for the public to make its opinion known will likely be in the fall). Please stay tuned for how you can help protect these amazing ocean oases. In the meantime, please watch Ocean Oases, and be sure to do something else special in honor of World Oceans Day.