On Thursday, President Barack Obama established the first U.S. marine monument in Atlantic waters. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, is about the size of the state of Connecticut. The area, which includes underground mountain ranges and three underwater canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon, is home to dozens of rare and endangered species, from corals to whales to sea turtles.
Obama’s announcement, made at the annual Our Ocean Conference in Washington, D.C. hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry, promises to help protect marine life, ensure sustainable fisheries and help hedge against climate change risks. In addition to this new U.S. marine monument, several countries attending the conference made commitments to create or expand protected marine areas, including Cambodia, Costa Rica, Lebanon and Seychelles.
The announcement comes a month after President Obama announced the expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which surrounds Hawaii’s northwestern atolls. This latest monument is another step for Obama in strengthening his environmental legacy with little more than four months left in his administration. “We cannot truly protect our planet without protecting our oceans,” the president said as he explained why he agreed to set aside the area for protection.
Only about 3 percent of the world’s oceans fall under government protection for conservation purposes, estimates suggest. Many scientists insist the amount of conserved ocean areas must increase to 30 percent worldwide in order to to protect biodiversity, allow ecosystems to recover from overfishing, and groom sustainable development for citizens who rely on the oceans for their way of life. To that end, the United Nations’ Convention on Biodiversity is pushing to conserve 10 percent of the world’s oceans by the end of this decade.
According to the White House, U.S. leadership on ocean protection is motivating other countries to follow suit. The 20 countries announcing similar measures during this week’s conference will lead to an additional 900,000 square miles of ocean now under protection – an increase from 730,000 square miles last year.
This new monument is not without controversy. Republicans and energy industry leaders will be unhappy that oil and gas exploration is immediately banned from the region. New England seafood companies also oppose the designation of this area as a monument, with one crab company describing it as a “big blow.” And the Atlantic Offshore Lobsterman’s Association accused the president of abusing his power and throwing fisherman and crews out of work.
But growing demand for seafood such as lobster is straining fisheries across the world, and prices are soaring as demands for these exports are on the rise. The Obama administration says it is sensitive to the fishing industry's concerns, as the size of the monument is smaller than requested by Connecticut’s congressional delegation.
For decades, businesses got what they wanted from Washington. Allowing scientists to have a seat at the table when it comes to how we manage our lands and oceans allows them to study the risks posed by climate change – and can help the seafood industry survive in the long run.
“One of the reasons I ran for president was to make sure that America does our part to protect our planet for future generations,” President Obama said at the Our Oceans Conference. “And I am very proud that America has become a global leader in the fight against climate change.”
Image credit: USFWS/Flickr
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.