Sept. 15, 2016 – Today, President Obama will designate the first marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean, protecting fragile deep-sea ecosystems off the coast of New England as the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. The new national monument – which encompasses pristine underwater mountains and canyons – will provide critical protections for important ecological resources and marine species, including deep-sea coral and endangered whales and sea turtles.
President Obama will make this announcement in remarks today at the 3rd annual Our Ocean Conference in Washington D.C. Hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry, the conference brings together leaders from around the world to mobilize for the health and resilience of our shared ocean.
Today’s action follows President Obama’s decision last month to expand the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument off the coast of Hawaii by 442,781 square miles, creating the world’s largest marine protected area. These actions reflect President Obama’s commitment to the goals of combatting climate change and protecting our ocean, in a way that respects local communities, economies and native practices.
By permanently protecting these resources and reducing other threats to their respective ecosystems, these actions will also improve ocean resilience in the face of climate change, and help to sustain the ocean ecosystems and fishing economies in these regions for the long run. These priorities are also reflected in the President’s budget where the Administration continues to call on Congress to grow our investment in ocean research and support dedicated programs that build coastal community and marine ecosystem resilience in the face of climate change.
Beyond the important impact of these actions for all Americans, U.S. leadership is yielding dividends globally. Thanks in part to the strong example set by President Obama and the United States, more than twenty countries attending this week’s Our Ocean Conference will announce the creation of 40 significant new marine protected areas, totaling nearly 460,000 square miles of ocean. When combined with the Papahānaumokuākea expansion, the nations of the world have protected more than 900,000 square miles of ocean in 2016, exceeding last year’s record of more than 730,000 square miles.
Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument
Today’s designation will protect 4,913 square miles of marine ecosystems with unique geological features that have been the subject of scientific exploration and discovery since the 1970s. These features include three underwater canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon, and four underwater mountains known as “seamounts” that are biodiversity hotspots and home to many rare and endangered species. Scientific expeditions to this region have yielded new discoveries including species of coral found nowhere else on Earth and other rare fish and invertebrates. Additionally, the canyons and seamounts provide habitat for protected species such as sea turtles and marine mammals, including endangered sperm, fin, and sei whales and Kemp’s ridley turtles. The newly protected marine area in the Northeast will be jointly managed by the Department of Commerce and the Department of the Interior.
According to a study released earlier this year by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), ocean temperatures in the Northeast are projected to warm close to three times faster than the global average. Additionally, the first of several assessments to analyze the impacts of climate change on fish stocks and fishing-dependent communities, found that warming oceans are threatening the majority of fish species in the region including salmon, lobster, and scallops. In September 2015, 145 prominent marine scientists wrote a public letter voicing their conclusion that the threats to the unique marine environment in this region warranted permanent protection to preserve intact ecosystems. Today’s designation will help build the resilience of that unique ecosystem, provide a refuge for at-risk species, and create natural laboratories for scientists to monitor and explore the impacts of climate change.
Today’s action also responds to nearly half a century of calls to protect this fragile area and builds on extensive engagement with numerous local officials, businesses, conservation organizations, commercial and recreational fishermen, and members of the public. In September of 2015, NOAA hosted a public meeting in Providence, Rhode Island to discuss permanent protection of this area. Since that time, senior Administration officials have visited the region repeatedly to engage with elected officials and stakeholders, including meeting locally with members of the commercial fishing industry, to gather data and information and to understand the potential impacts of permanently protecting marine areas.
As a result of this extensive engagement, today’s designation is designed to reflect the unique marine environment in the northeast Atlantic and recognize the unique role that fishing plays in the region’s economy and culture. Specifically:
- The geographic boundaries of the monument have been narrowly tailored based on the best available science and stakeholder input.
- Recreational fishing will be allowed within the boundaries of the monument.
- Red crab and lobster fisheries will be provided with seven years before being required to exit the monument area, to allow these fixed-gear fisheries to transition their operations.
- Other commercial fishing operators will not have to change their practices immediately and will have 60-days to transition from the monument area.
In addition, the Administration is committed to continue addressing economic impacts on northeast fisheries, building on our ongoing efforts to help New England fisherman that have faced hardships due to changing stock abundance. Specifically, NOAA is committed to working with Congress to fully utilize existing programs, including those that support:
- low-interest loans for vessel rehabilitation, acquisition of new vessels, aquaculture, shoreside fisheries facilities, and gear repair or upgrades;
- surveys in partnership with industry;
- innovation in stock assessment science; and
- programs and actions aimed at reducing costs, reducing discard mortality, and increasing flexibility and efficiencies.
NOAA will also be engaging with stakeholders in the region to discuss grant programs that may be relevant including Bycatch Reduction and Engineering Program, the Fisheries Innovation Fund, Electronic Monitoring and Reporting Grants, and the Saltonstall-Kennedy Grant Program. And the Administration will be engaging with other stakeholders to discuss efforts to help support a strong and resilient sustainable fishery in the northeast region.
In addition to supporting businesses as they adjust to a changing climate, the Administration will explore opportunities to advance and implement changes in ocean and fisheries management to address these same forces. For example, NOAA recognizes the potential impact of climate shifts on species ranges and abundance and is working to assess those impacts on fishery management plans. Specifically, NOAA will be releasing the northeast region’s Climate Science Regional Action Plan in the next month. This report will focus on fisheries in the mid-Atlantic and New England, and will prioritize the science needed to evaluate the expansion northward of fish species. These studies will provide the data that the regional fishery management councils and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission need to better manage the catch of changing stocks in the region and along the coast.
President Obama’s Record on Marine Conservation
Since taking office, President Obama has sought to lead the world in marine conservation by taking bold action to protect our ocean and marine ecosystems. In addition to protecting more land and water than any administration in history – including creating the world’s largest marine protected area last month – President Obama has taken many steps to combat illegal fishing, revitalize the process for establishing new marine sanctuaries and promote ocean stewardship through the use of science- based decision making.
Under President Obama, this administration has:
- Prioritized maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems and building ocean resilience as part of our global climate strategy. More
- Established the first-ever National Ocean Policy to improve the health of our ocean, support our economy and better understand how our activities impact the ocean. More
- Formed the National Ocean Council’s Governance Coordinating committee to include state, tribal, and local leaders in a unified ocean strategy. More
- Protected endangered and threatened marine species, including sea turtles and manatees. More
- Created the framework to enable and support the regions to develop regional marine plans, including the recently released draft Mid-Atlantic regional marine plan. More
- Reinitiated the process for establishing new marine sanctuaries. More
- Tackled illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and seafood fraud. More
- Put the United States on track to end overfishing and dramatically increased the sustainability of our fish stocks. More
- Created systems to hold international partners accountable for protecting the environment and coordinating global and enforceable efforts through the Trans Pacific Partnership. More
- Improved coastal resilience and sea level rise tools to protect communities from the impacts of climate change and to prepare for disasters. More