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Obama Designates First Marine National Monument in Atlantic

Scientists have documented more than 70 species of coral in the national monument area. (NOAA)
Scientists have documented more than 70 species of coral in the national monument area. (NOAA)
September 16, 2016

HARTFORD, Conn. - President Obama on Thursday announced the designation of the first marine national monument in Atlantic waters. Spanning almost 5,000 square miles, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument will protect crucial habitat for fish and marine mammals.

According to Peter Baker, director of northeast ocean conservation for the Pew Charitable Trusts, the area supports an incredible array of wildlife, from cold-water coral to sperm whales.

"It's truly a historic day," he said. "It cements the President's legacy supporting conservation, and it will allow animals a refuge as climate change warms our oceans."

Senator Richard Blumenthal proposed designating the area as a marine national monument, an idea that was supported by the state's entire congressional delegation.

Located 150 miles off Cape Cod, the area includes a canyon deeper than the Grand Canyon, and extinct volcanoes taller than any mountain east of the Mississippi.

Peter Auster, a senior research scientist at the Mystic Aquarium, calls the designation an "outstanding contribution to conserving global biodiversity."

"In this relatively compact place, we actually get a tremendous cross-section of the diversity of ocean wildlife that occurs off the northeast continental shelf," he said.

In the past year, more than 300,000 people have voiced their support for permanent protection of the area.

The monument is also adjacent to the Gulf of Maine, where researchers say water temperatures are rising faster than anywhere else on the planet. And Baker pointed out that many fish species are likely to seek out the colder waters of the deep canyons.

"So, it provides a refuge from climate change and also provides the scientific community a pristine place where they can measure the effects of these changes," Baker said.

There are currently four marine national monuments in U.S. waters in the Pacific Ocean.

Support for this reporting was provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - CT