Obama creates 1st marine national monument in Atlantic

President Obama established on September 15 the first national marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean, a move that’s designed to permanently protect nearly 13,000 square kilometers of underwater canyons and mountains off the coast of New England.

The White House said the designation will lead to a ban on commercial fishing, mining and drilling, though a seven-year exception will occur for the lobster and red crab industries. Also, recreational fishing will be allowed within the monument.

“Certainly the oceans can come back if we take the steps that are necessary,” Obama said on the opening day of the Our Ocean conference at the U.S. Department of State in Washington.

The monument is home to protected species such as sperm, fin and sei whales and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Expeditions have found species of coral seen nowhere else on Earth. The designation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument marks the 27th time Obama has acted to create or expand a national monument. In August, the president created the world’s largest marine protected area off the coast of Hawaii. That monument is called the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and covers some 1,510,000 square kilometers, more than twice the size of Texas.

Obama noted the resilience of nature on a visit to the Hawaii monument, where he saw the shore teeming with birds, turtles and seals. “It was right there — evidence of the incredible power of nature to rebuild itself if we’re not consistently trying to tear it down,” he told conference attendees. 

The two-day event brings in leaders from around the world to mobilize efforts in protecting the health of the world’s ocean.

More than 20 countries attending the Our Ocean conference will announce the creation of their own marine protected areas.

Supporters say that roping off large swaths of ocean from human stresses can sustain important species and reduce the toll of climate change.

Environmental groups applauded the designation, saying that it is as important to be good stewards of the ocean as it is the land and air.

“Just as wild lands around the globe are beleaguered by human development and climate change, our oceans are under duress today more than ever before,” said Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society.

You can follow the conference proceedings at #OurOcean and @StateDeptOES.