President Barack Obama has announced the creation the first US marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean.
Called the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, the area includes 12,725 square kilometers off the coast of New England. The designation as a national monument will protect the area’s ecosystem, which is home to endangered whales, coral, sea turtles, and many others. There will be a gradual phase-out of commercial fishing in the area.
Announcing the decision at the Our Ocean Conference in Washington D.C, on September 15th, Obama described the value of the monument, saying “In these waters, the Atlantic Ocean meets the continental shelf in a region of great abundance and diversity as well as stark geological relief.”
The area will be roughly the size of Connecticut, inspiring references to the national monument as an “underwater Yellowstone” or “a deep sea Serengeti.” The monument includes two areas off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, including an area containing 4 underwater seamounts and one that is home to three submarine canyons, located at the edge of the continental shelf.
The move has been praised by environmental activists such as Brad Sewell of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Noting that the area will be untouched by commercial fishing, mining or drilling, he said “We’re phenomenally excited. It’s going to be increasingly important as climate change, its impacts increase.”
Opponents, especially those with commercial interests in the area, have decried the move as an illegal use of presidential authority. A spokesman for the National Coalition for Fishing Communities, Bob Vanasse, said “We don’t normally create laws in this country by the stroke of an imperial pen, this is not only an end-run around Congress, it’s an end-run around the entire system the Congress created to protect these ocean resources.”
Outlining the effect the designation will have on the fishing industry, he continued by saying “We anticipate the offshore lobster industry will be affected to the tune of about $10 million per year. On top of that, one of the most affected industries is going to be the Atlantic red crab industry. It is going to be very significantly impacted.”
Administration officials have said that to minimize the financial impact, they are already designating a smaller area than initially planned.
Last month, Obama expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument near Hawaii, citing the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allows the president to unilaterally designate such monuments. The administration has pointed out that the act has been invoked by 16 presidents to designate sites such as the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty.