Why the First Atlantic Marine National Monument Will Help Save the Oceans

The Obama administration creates a permanent refuge for ancient coral gardens, spectacular canyons, whales, sea turtles, and other marine life.
A deep-sea red crab on bubblegum coral. (Photo: Courtesy NOAA)
Sep 15, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Ashlan Gorse Cousteau is a veteran journalist and adventure seeker who travels the world covering a broad range of events and experiences.
Inspired by the legacy of his grandfather Jacques Cousteau, Philippe Cousteau is an Emmy-nominated TV host and prominent leader in the environmental movement.

A great day for our water planet! President Obama on Thursday established the nation’s first fully protected marine reserve in the Atlantic Ocean—a historic advance for America’s ocean wildlife. We want to personally thank everyone who has worked so hard to protect these important and beautiful ocean treasures that belong to each and every one of us.

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument will provide a 4,913-square-mile permanent refuge for a dazzling array of ocean wildlife and habitats, including delicate and ancient coldwater coral gardens, whales, dolphins, sea turtles, seabirds, and fish.

Located 150 miles off America’s most populous coastline, Northeast Canyons and Seamounts is an extraordinary underwater seascape, punctuated by three massive submarine canyons and four towering seamounts. Chiseled into the continental shelf, Oceanographer, Gilbert, and Lydonia canyons are among the largest submarine canyons in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean, each deeper than the Grand Canyon. Beyond these canyons, four extinct underwater volcanoes—the Bear, Physalia, Mytilus, and Retriever seamounts—rise from the abyss, taller than any mountain east of the Rockies. They are the only such seamounts in United States Atlantic waters.

These canyons and seamounts, which lie thousands of feet underwater, exist in a dark and—until recently—completely mysterious world. Scientists have now explored them and have discovered that the plunging walls and deep floors of the canyons and the towering slopes of the seamounts are alive with strange—and breathtakingly beautiful—creatures. Ancient, fragile, centuries-old corals—some the size of small trees—shine in vivid pinks, purples, yellows, and oranges, despite the lack of light from above. These corals and sponges form a foundation for an extraordinary universe of life.

A fathead fish. (Photo: Courtesy NOAA)

It’s not just the unique species that make America’s first Atlantic marine reserve special. It’s also the diverse ocean habitat. From the sea surface to the seafloor, America’s newest marine monument is a vital and lively biodiversity hot spot. In its coral gardens, there are distinct coral species anchored to the steep canyon and seamount walls. Rare deep-sea fish, including several found at Bear Seamount that are new to science, ply the black depths. Huge schools of squid and mackerel forage in the nutrient-rich waters above the canyons and seamounts. These, in turn, attract tuna, marlin, swordfish, dolphins, and sharks. Endangered sperm whales, which eat up to a ton of squid and fish each day, troll the deep waters. Sea turtles use this area, and diverse seabird species, including the iconic Atlantic puffin, congregate here.

Creating safe havens like this monument is absolutely critical. Marine monuments help make our oceans more resilient to a changing climate and to acidification. They provide a refuge for wildlife from the onslaught of the human push to fish, mine, and drill to the ends of the earth.

The delicately balanced ecosystem here can now thrive for generations to come, protected forever from the kinds of disturbances or activities that would destroy these fragile habitats or disrupt the area’s food chain.

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument represents the best of American ideals: to make the world, including our precious oceans, a better place, both for us and for those who come after us.

Marine National Monument

More than 300,000 Americans asked the Obama administration to protect this area, and each voice counted in making this dream a reality.

We extend our deepest thanks to President Obama for his leadership in making our oceans healthy and resilient by setting aside special ocean areas. Today’s announcement follows the president’s recent expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument near Hawaii. Now totaling 582,578 thousand square miles and protecting more than 7,000 marine species, Papahānaumokuākea is the world’s largest marine reserve.

Building on this legacy, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument represents the first marine national monument in the waters of the continental United States.

We hope this will be the first of many to come.

In closing, we leave you with a stunning video of clips from recent expeditions to the Atlantic Ocean’s crown jewel—the canyons and seamounts off New England’s coast. We hope you will take a few moments to celebrate and savor our country’s newest ocean monument.