On September 15, 2016, President Obama augmented his conservation legacy by designating a 4,900-square-mile stretch of sea off of the New England coast as the first protected marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is located roughly 150 miles off the coast of Cape Cod in the Gulf of Maine, and is home to rare underwater treasurers, including deep sea canyons that plunge to depths greater than 7,000 feet (1,000 feet deeper than the Grand Canyon!) and astounding seamounts (which rise higher from the seafloor than any mountain east of the Rockies!), creating unique habitats that support tremendous biodiversity and fragile ecosystems.
The Surfrider Foundation’s Northeast chapters supported the core coalition of environmental nonprofits who championed this effort, adding influence to secure permanent protection for the three canyons and four seamounts. Designation helps protect these special areas from threats, such as overfishing and mining, while maintaining the integrity of the ecosystem and superb recreational opportunities for low impact enjoyments. Advocating for important ocean areas is central to the Surfrider Foundation's mission and we applaud all who had a hand in this important endeavor.
The designation comes on the heels of the first in the nation regional ocean plan, which creates a comprehensive paradigm shift in ocean management created under the National Ocean Policy. The National Ocean Council is slated to review and approve the Northeast regional ocean plan this fall.
One of the key improvements in the National Ocean Policy is an investment in obtaining public input for decisions that impact the future of the ocean. In the Northeast regional ocean plan, this manifests by way of early notification in permitting processes as well as an expectation for government agencies to actively solicit input from potentially affected stakeholders to inform their decision-making.
The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Monument was designated under the American Antiquities Act of 1906, which gives the President authority to establish national monuments. A strong public process to inform the management plan is therefore critical to ensure that stakeholder interests are appropriately considered in the development of regulations for the protected area.
Regional Planning Body (RPB) member agencies have committed to utilizing new best practices they helped develop in the Northeast regional ocean plan, which categorically includes robust public input. Even prior to the close of public comments on the final draft plan, the Navy demonstrated its commitment to this new protocol by extending notification of a potentially conflicting activity in a given spatial area to affected stakeholders. Surfrider will be calling upon NOAA and other RPB members to follow suit by fully investing in public input as they develop the management plan for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. As a grassroots organization, Surfrider looks forward to supporting strong public and stakeholder involvement in the development of the management plan.