Ocean Monument Deep Dive (Literally)

On July 27th, off the coast of New England, NOAA's remotely-operated vehicle (ROV), the Deep Discoverer, will launch off the vessel Okeanos Explorer, and be piloted down to the slope of Retriever Seamount in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument to view its biodiversity and geology up close. Retriever Seamount is one of the Monument’s four seamounts, which are as tall as any mountain east of the Rockies. The Monument also encompasses three large submarine canyons, all deeper than the Grand Canyon. Both the canyons and seamounts are home to an astonishing diversity and abundance of marine life, like thousand-year-old deep-sea coral colonies, seabirds like the iconic Atlantic puffin, and marine mammals, like endangered sperm whales.

Map of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.

And the public can join in the fun: the views from NOAA’s ROV will be streamed live. You can listen in as dozens of scientists on the Okeanos Explorer and around the world discuss and document what they are seeing in real-time. Mystic Aquarium and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will also take advantage of this livestream during the Retriever Seamount dive to hold a live virtual Q&A session with experts from Mystic Aquarium, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and NOAA Ocean Exploration. More details on this July 27th event (which is planned for 1-2 pm EST) are here and the Facebook event is here.

NOAA’s exploration of the Monument is part of the agency’s 2021 North Atlantic Stepping Stones: New England and Corner Rise Seamounts expedition. In addition to July 27th’s Retriever Seamount dive, NOAA plans to conduct a dive over Bear Seamount in the Monument on July 28th. These plans are subject to change for weather and other reasons (daily updates to the schedule are posted here). 

The Canyons and Seamounts Monument is a place both to geek out on the fascinating science—with the new, strange, and/or fascinating encountered regularly—and to sit back and revel in otherworldly beauty. Next week, assuming cooperative weather, the Monument will have the opportunity to strut its stuff in front of the world.

Bubblegum Coral in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. Image Credit: NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Deep Connections 2019

As excited as I am about next week’s events, I wish I could bring you even better news about the Monument. But we are still waiting for President Biden to act positively on Interior Secretary Haaland’s recommendation (reported in the Washington Post) that the President reverse President Trump’s rollbacks of the Canyons and Seamounts, Bears Ears, and Grand Staircase-Escalante Monuments.

On the merits, this should be an easy decision for the President. In the case of the Canyons and Seamounts Monument, President Trump’s decision in June 2020 to open up the Monument to commercial fishing was pure political pandering, which NRDC and its partners promptly challenged in federal court, as I wrote about here. There’s no evidence that the prohibition on commercial fishing in the 2016 Proclamation that designated the Monument caused any harm—landings and revenues in the relevant fisheries stayed the same or went up after the designation. On the flip side, scientists have identified and quantified real harms from the removal of the protection, and have built a powerful case for how protecting rich and diverse ecosystems, like those in the Canyons and Seamounts, from commercial fishing, as well as from other commercial extractive activities like oil and gas drilling and mining, has huge biodiversity and climate resilience benefits (see my colleague Ali Chase’s blog here).

Perhaps the President will act when the public is tuned into the scientists’ journey down into the Monument’s depths and bearing witness to this special place’s irreplaceable beauty. Tune in anyway—you just might see a blue whale, the largest animal to have ever graced this earth. 

Blue Whale in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. Image Credit: New England Aquarium

About the Authors

Brad Sewell

Senior Director, Oceans Division, Nature Program

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.