Lying 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is home to at least 60 species of coral. The shapes and colors of these creatures are things of wonder in this stretch of the Atlantic Ocean—many have developed into tree shapes and can grow as thick as a forest—but the monument offers much more than ocean eye candy. Steep underwater canyon walls and seamount slopes channel upwellings of nutrients that fuel the food chain for abundant marine wildlife. Multiple species of shark feed in the monument, joining dolphins, turtles, tuna, and billfish, among countless others. Endangered sperm whales and beaked whales also forage in the area.
Commercial fishing harms these special and vulnerable ecosystems. Ancient corals can be destroyed in a single pass of a heavy bottom-trawling net. Fishing gear can catch and entangle nontargeted marine life, like dolphins. For this reason, President Obama established Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in 2016 and placed it off limits to commercial fishing, as well as oil and gas exploration and mining.
In opening the monument to commercial fishing, Trump called the rules “ridiculous” and “terrible.” (Few people combine ignorance and hyperbole like Donald J. Trump.) With no apparent recognition of the ecosystems the monument was intended to protect, he complained bitterly about the monument placing “nearly 5,000 square miles” of ocean off-limits to commercial fishing, describing it as “deeply unfair.”
Let’s have a little perspective. Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument represents only about 1 percent of U.S. waters off the Atlantic coast. There’s nothing ridiculous, terrible, or unfair about setting aside a tiny sliver of the ocean as a protected sanctuary for the benefit of future generations, to foster scientific research, and to help heal our stressed and abused oceans.