Your Marine Monuments Need Your Help!

This is World Oceans Month. Which makes it a particularly opportune time to enjoy and appreciate the ocean, whether it’s boating, angling, or walking along the surf.

But your oceans also need your help this month. More specifically, your marine monuments—our country’s blue parks—need your help.

In April, President Trump issued two executive orders requiring the Department of Interior (order here) and the Department of Commerce (order here) to review 27 national monuments and to make recommendations to him on whether the monuments should be reduced in size or protection, or eliminated entirely. Five marine national monuments—essentially all of them—are included in the review. This puts the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, designated in September 2016 and the only marine monument off the continental United States, in our President’s crosshairs. 

I have written about the canyons and seamounts monument here and here. It is a spectacular seascape about 150 miles southeast of Cape Cod and a place of vibrant life and serene beauty.  Gardens of ancient and fragile deep sea corals cloak the crags and cliffs of the monument’s three canyons, which plunge deeper than the Grand Canyon, and four seamounts, the only ones in the U.S. Atlantic. Sperm whales, beaked whales (which can dive nearly 2 miles deep and hold their breath for more than 2 hours), and numerous other whale and dolphin species swim in monument waters. Atlantic puffins overwinter here, and many other seabird species forage on the monument’s large populations of squid and small fish. Over a thousand other species inhabit the canyons and seamounts, making it a regional biodiversity hotspot. 

Image courtesy Northeast Canyons 2013 Science Team/NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program

The canyons and seamounts monument and its marine wildlife are currently protected from commercial exploitation, allowing the area to serve as a unique scientific laboratory for the benefit of future generations of Americans. But President Trump’s executive orders are focused on what commercial interests say they have lost with protection of this and other monuments—it’s hard, for example, not to see Big Oil’s fingerprints all over an Executive Order that’s entitled “Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.”

The damage could be substantial even if the monument is not entirely eliminated. In fact, opponents of the canyons and seamounts monument have made clear that they would be o.k. with a partial whittling away of protections, such as allowing commercial fishing. This would put marine wildlife in danger of entanglement and being incidentally caught, and could harm corals essentially permanently, given that these fragile organisms can be thousands of years old. It’s also possible that the shallowest portions of the monument would be proposed for elimination, even though these areas are critical for marine mammals and are otherwise most at risk of harm.

NRDC will certainly fight with all tools at our disposal any effort to dismantle, in part or in full, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. But we also need the public to express their outrage to the Trump Administration. The Department of Interior is accepting public comments through July 10th; comments to the Interior Department about marine monuments will be provided to the Commerce Department. You can sign a petition here that will be submitted to the Interior Department as part of the public comments. Even better, you can send a personalized comment directly to the Interior Department by going to https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=DOI-2017-0002-0001 and following the instructions. Make sure to mention any personal connection you might have the monument.

I’ll continue to keep you updated on developments in this fight.  

About the Authors

Brad Sewell

Director, Fisheries and U.S. Atlantic, Oceans Program

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