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Obama creates Atlantic Ocean’s first marine national monument

  • The newly designated marine protected area comprises of underwater canyons and mountains that are home to numerous rare and endangered marine species like the Kemp’s ridley turtles, sperm, fin and sei whales and vibrant deep-sea corals.
  • The marine protected area lies in a region that is projected to warm nearly three times faster than the global average, and the warming waters are threatening majority of fish species in the region including salmon, lobster, and scallops, the White House said.
  • While recreational fishermen will be allowed within the boundaries of the monument, red crab and lobster fisheries will be permitted seven years to exit the monument area.

Last Thursday, U.S. President Barrack Obama announced the creation of the first national marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean. The announcement was made at the ongoing Our Ocean Conference at Washington, D.C. hosted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, situated 130 miles off the coast of New England in northeastern U.S., is slated to protect 4,913 square miles of the ocean, comprising of underwater canyons and mountains that are home to numerous rare and endangered marine species like the Kemp’s ridley turtles, sperm, fin and sei whales and vibrant deep-sea corals, the White House said in a statement.

The protected area will be jointly managed by the Department of Commerce and the Department of the Interior.

“I’m proud of what America has done, that we are doing our share,” President Obama said at the conference. “But it’s no secret that we’re all going to have to do a lot more, and we’re going to have to do it fast.”

 

The designated marine monument lies in a region that is projected to warm nearly three times faster than the global average, according to a study by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  Research has also found that warming oceans are threatening several fish species in the region including salmon, lobster, and scallops.

While recreational fishermen will be allowed within the boundaries of the monument, the red crab and lobster fisheries will be permitted seven years to exit the monument area “to allow these fixed-gear fisheries to transition their operations,” the statement said. Commercial fishing operators will have 60 days to transition from the monument area.

Map of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“We’re helping make oceans more resilient to climate change,” President Obama said. “And this will help fishermen better understand the changes that are taking place that will affect their livelihood, and we’re doing it in a way that respects the fishing industry’s unique role in New England’s economy and history.”

Fishermen in New England have, however, opposed the new marine protected area, saying that it will hurt the fishing industry. They have also criticized Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act to create protected areas in the country. Last month too, Obama created the world’s largest marine national monument off Hawaii using the authorities granted under this act.

“We don’t normally create laws in this country by the stroke of an imperial pen,” Bob Vanasse, a spokesman for the National Coalition for Fishing Communities, told WGBH news. “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.”

But NOAA will help support the New England fishermen, the statement said, by working with Congress to use existing programs, such as those that support low-interest loans for vessel rehabilitation, acquisition of new vessels, aquaculture, shoreside fisheries facilities, and gear repair or upgrades.

“We need sustainable fisheries and economically sustainable communities. This monument can help bring both forward,” Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

The newly designated marine national monument off New England is home to the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. Photo by National Park Service. Public Domain.