For many years marine scientists have been advocating for the formation of ocean sanctuaries that include large areas for sustainable growth of threatened species, particularly those that have seen a sharp decline such as groundfish. These areas are analogous to land conservation in which sensitive ecosystems are protected from excessive use and exploitation. The impact of climate change, overfishing, pollution runoff, and a reduction in biodiversity makes it necessary to set aside large areas for the future protection of this planet.
On September 15, 2016 President Barrack Obama took a very important step in this direction. He named the first marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean, namely the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. This includes nearly 5000 square miles of undersea geological structures a little over a hundred miles south of Cape Cod. The president has the authority to create national monuments of this kind under the Antiquities Act, started by President Theodore Roosevelt. These deep sea canyons and seamounts provide critical habitats for a wide variety of species, some of which are rare and threatened such as coral. Three of the canyons in this area are deeper than the Grand Canyon, and the site contains endangered animals such as the sperm whale and Kemps ridley turtles.
Activities that can have a negative effect on the region such as commercial fishing and drilling are now banned though recreational fishing can continue. Some species such as lobster and red crab can continue to be harvested for the next seven years, but overall this is an area for replenishment and growth which will have a positive impact on abutting territories.
The thinking behind this designation is to create a large nursery for the sustainable growth of key species. With so many threats to marine life a national monument in the Atlantic Ocean is a step in the right direction to protect these resources and prevent additional loss of species. Dredging operations and trawls damage the benthic environment by removing areas of the substrate for colonization. Without these environmentally damaging practices it is hoped that, at least in this area, many animal populations will continue to successfully reproduce, propagate and spread to nearby regions.
Copyright Gil Newton 2009 Thanks to Chris Dumas for logo image.