Obama Creates Atlantic’s First Marine Monument

     (CN) — Continuing to bolster his environmental legacy, President Barack Obama on Thursday announced the creation of the first national marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean to protect endangered and threatened species affected by commercial fishing and other human activity.
     “We’re protecting fragile ecosystems off the coast of New England, including pristine undersea canyons and seamounts,” Obama said during the Our Ocean conference in Washington. “We’re helping make the oceans more resilient to climate change, and we’re doing it in a way that respects the fishing industry’s unique role in New England’s economy and history.”
     At 4,913 square miles, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is roughly the size of Connecticut and has been called an “underwater Yellowstone.”
     Beneath the waves off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is a submerged paradise of vivid corals, canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon, lush forests and extinct volcanoes, all filled with wildlife such as sea turtles, endangered sperm whales and exotic species that can’t be found anywhere else in Earth’s oceans.
     “Teddy Roosevelt had the foresight to protect the treasures of America’s landscape. With that same boldness, President Obama is conserving the crown jewels of our nation’s seascape,” National Resources Defense Council President Rhea Suh said in a statement.
     “This historic act will make our ocean more resilient to climate change. By preserving this rich diversity of marine life, it will also support New England’s coastal and ocean economy.”
     A study in August found that low-frequency noise from passing cargo ships and freighters are disrupting humpback whales’ ability to feed off the coast of New England.
     But opponents are already challenging the creation of the marine monument, labeling it an illegal use of presidential authority.
     “We don’t normally create laws in this country by the stroke of an imperial pen,” Bob Vanasse, a spokesman for the National Coalition for Fishing Communities, told NPR.
     “This is not only an end-run around Congress, it’s an end-run around the entire system Congress created to protect these ocean resources.”
     Vanesse said the move will harm the fishing industry.
     “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.”
     To mitigate the financial harm, senior administration officials say they’re designating a smaller area than planned, and red crab and lobster fisheries have been given a seven-year grace period before they have to comply with the new restrictions.
     Obama expanded the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Pacific Ocean last month using the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allows him to act unilaterally.
     Senior administration officials say the same authority has been invoked more than a hundred times by 16 presidents to protect national treasures like the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon.
     Obama referenced his personal experience during his remarks Thursday, mentioning his childhood in Hawaii.
     “The notion that the ocean I grew up with is not something I can pass on to my kids and my grandkids is unacceptable,” the president said. “It’s unimaginable. And so the investment that all of us together make here today is vital for our economy, it’s vital for our foreign policy, it’s vital for our security, but it’s also vital for our spirit. It’s vital to who we are.”
     Secretary of State John Kerry, who is hosting the ocean conference, touted the United States’ leadership in protecting the world’s oceans.
     “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,” Kerry said in a statement.

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