Obama creates the first US marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean

Obama creates the first US marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean

By Loree Lewis   
Published

The move will immediately bar oil and gas exploration and drilling in the area, as well as most commercial fishing within the monument’s boundaries, giving fishermen 60 days to cease their operations there.

WASHINGTON (Talk Media News) – President Barack Obama created the Atlantic Ocean’s first marine monument Thursday, protecting an expanse of underwater volcanoes and canyons, along with the creatures that live among them, off the coast of New England.

“If we’re going to leave our children with oceans like the ones that were left to us then we’re going to have to act. And we’re going to have to act boldly,” Obama said during the Our Ocean conservation conference in Washington, D.C.

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is an area roughly the size of Connecticut and falls 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass.

The steep slopes of the canyons and seamounts meet currents that push nutrient filled water from the depths of the ocean to the surface. Those nutrients mix with sunlight to spur the growth of phytoplankton and zooplankton. The microscopic life forms the basis of the food chain, drawing in schools of fish and the animals that feed on them — whales, sharks, tunas, porpoises, dolphins, sea turtles and seabirds.

A brisingid sea star, octopus, bivalves, and a group of cup corals gather in an undersea chasm off New England. Marine animals often form groups like this on rock ledges and canyon walls. Photo: NOAA
A brisingid sea star, octopus, bivalves, and a group of cup corals gather in an undersea chasm off New England. Photo: NOAA

“Dangerous changes in our climate caused mainly by human activity; dead zones in our ocean caused mainly by pollution that we create here on land; unsustainable fishing practices; unprotected marine areas in which rare species and entire ecosystems are at risk — all those things are happening now,” Obama said.

Ocean temperatures in the area of the Atlantic are projected to warm as much as three times as fast as the global average, jeopardizing biodiversity.

“It’s warming very rapidly, and the fish that live there are looking for cooler, deeper water to swim into and survive and allow their populations to thrive and grow,” said Peter Baker, who directs Pew Charitable Trust’s ocean conservation work in the Northeast U.S. “These animals are under so much stress from climate change and over fishing that they need a refuge.”

The 4,913-square-mile new monument is currently one of the least fished areas in the Northeast U.S., according to Baker.

The move will immediately bar oil and gas exploration and drilling in the area. It will also bar most commercial fishing within the monument’s boundaries, giving fishermen 60 days to cease their operations there.

It’s drawn criticism from the fisheries industry, who say that they were left out of the administration’s planning efforts and that the President’s unilateral declaration of the monument under the 1906 Antiquities Act is unlawful.

“Our members are disappointed, angry and feel somewhat betrayed,” said Bob Vanasse, a spokesman for the National Coalition for Fishing Communities. “It doesn’t seem like the concerns that were raised were incorporated into the proposal or addressed.”

“We don’t in this country make regulations by the imperial stroke of a pen.”

Vanasse said that declaration jeopardizes decades of collaborative fisheries management through the 1976 Magnuson Stevens Act.

“It’s not simply a box you draw on a map with a couple of former activist employees who are now White House staffers, just arbitrarily creating boxes on maps. This has not gone through the kind of scrutiny that a regulation of this sort would normally go through,” he said.

Photo: Pew
Photo: Pew

Obama is not the first president to declare a large national monument under the legal framework of the Antiquities Act, following President George W. Bush who in 2006 created the 139,000 square mile Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

“This is clearly an example under both the Obama and Bush administrations of a President taking a small amount of authority and running with it as much as possible,” said Vanasse. “And, I seriously hope it’s challenged in court, because I don’t think the Antiquities Act allows this.”

Last month, Obama expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

To mitigate financial harm to the fisheries industry, the Atlantic monument is smaller than planned, administration officials said, and lobster and red crab fisheries have been given a seven-year grace period before they have to comply.

The office of Republican Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said in a statement Thursday saying that the “administration is deeply disappointed by the federal government’s unilateral decision to undermine the Commonwealth’s commercial and recreational fishermen with this designation.”

A White House fact sheet outlined an array of programs that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would use to help New England fishermen who have “faced hardships” —  from low interest loans to repair their vessels to federal assistance for programs meant to boost yield.

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