Giving Thanks

(ACOEL) | American College of Environmental Lawyers
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Utilizing his authority under the Antiquities Act, President Biden recently issued a proclamation restoring protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, an outstanding ocean area approximately 130 miles off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. He did this at the same time as he restored protections for the better known Bears Ears and Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monuments. Protections for all three monuments had been significantly rolled back under former President Trump.

This development is very important. As CEQ Chair Mallory pointed out at the proclamation signing ceremony, the President’s action upholds a longstanding principle that America’s national monuments are to be protected for all time, a welcome repudiation of the prior administration’s view.

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument consists of three deep-sea canyons, some deeper than the Grand Canyon, and four seamounts, extinct underwater volcanoes which are taller than any mountains east of the Rockies. Because of the dramatic geology, the upwelling of nutrients, and the proximity to the Gulf Stream, the area is home to a rich diversity of endangered and threatened whales and dolphins, sea turtles and seabirds like Atlantic puffins, plus thousand year-old deep sea corals. Overflights by the New England Aquarium have documented the rich diversity of life in the monument and visits by NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer have documented in video the incredible life under the sea.

The monument, which is about 5,000 square miles and roughly equivalent in size to Connecticut, was first established by President Obama in 2016 as a marine national monument—the only one in the Atlantic Ocean. That proclamation prohibited commercial fishing, offshore oil and gas drilling and deep sea-bed mining. The reason why the commercial fishing ban is so important is that commercial fishing gear can severely damage centuries-old deep sea corals with one pass of a heavy trawl net and can entangle and damage or kill endangered and threatened marine mammals and seabirds in fishing longlines.

In June 2020, President Trump issued a proclamation rolling back the ban on commercial fishing. Biden’s proclamation has restored that prohibition, while leaving in place a provision included in the original proclamation that allows red crab and lobster fishing until September 2023 so those fisheries are given time to transition out of the monument area.

This monument is one of only five marine national monuments, the other four located in the western and central Pacific. With climate change having an increasing detrimental impact on the ocean through ocean warming, increased acidification and deoxygenation, it is more important than ever to set aside areas of the ocean to protect marine diversity and strengthen the resilience of ocean life to climate change. Restoration of protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts is an important step in this direction, and so let’s give thanks.

Photo Credit: New England Aquarium

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