President Barack Obama has a few things left he’d like to do before leaving office, one of which is designating the first-ever marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean that he will announce today during the Our Ocean conference in Washington, D.C.. Environmental activists couldn’t be happier, as the particular area of ocean has remained untouched thus far; its status as a national monument will secure its future as a protected area that cannot be exploited for profit by the likes of commercial drilling, fishing or mining companies. In response to Obama’s actions, environmentalist Brad Sewall, who is part of the National Resources Defense Council, said “We’re phenomenally excited…we need to have these protected reservoirs of resilience.”
Situated off the coast of New England, the 4,913 square mile Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument has been referred to as an “underwater Yellowstone” replete with various aquatic life, including a number of endangered species such as sea turtles, sperm and beaked whales, sharks and other forms of life rarely seen elsewhere. Adding to the eclectic mix are a number of coral reefs, extinct volcanoes, abundant forests, and canyons bigger and deeper than the Grand Canyon. There are also a number of seamounts (think underwater mountains), some of which rise as high as 7,700 feet from the bottom of the ocean. It’s easy to understand why President Obama chose the particular area, which will undoubtedly reduce some of the more serious impacts of the indisputable climate change the planet continues to face.
However, not everyone is pleased with his decision. The spokesman for the National Coalition for Fishing Communities, Bob Vanasse, sees it as an abuse of Presidential power saying, “We don’t normally create laws in this country by the stroke of an imperial pen…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.” Opponents argue that by making the area off limits to commercial fisheries, the industry will suffer major financial setbacks that will affect their livelihood; they also believe it is illegal for the President to assert his authority in such a way. Though not true, Obama’s administration has still made provisions to ease any economic burden these multi-million dollar corporations may experience by giving lobster and red crab fishers seven years to vacate the region while still allowing recreational fishing around the seamounts and canyons. He made it clear, though, that seabed mining and other profitable extractions will no longer be permitted.
Obama and his administration created the Our Ocean conference two years ago as a way to communicate on a global scale the importance of oceanic preservation and conservation. When responding to challengers about the legality of the President’s actions, host of this year’s Our Ocean conference Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement that read, “By protecting ecologically sensitive areas of our ocean, the United States is leading on an issue that is important to people on every continent because of the ocean’s connection to food security, shared prosperity and resiliency in the face of climate change.”
As an adult who grew up very near the ocean and having spent much of my childhood on a boat chock full of scientists, I have to agree with Mr. Sewall. I am phenomenally excited by this latest news.