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In 2016, President Obama designated the first national marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean: The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. It is a biodiversity hot spot — home to numerous rare and endangered species, including Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, deep-sea fish and corals, as well as three species of whales. However, as the Trump administration threatens to strip the protections from two dozen of our country’s national monuments, this treasure—our only Atlantic Ocean marine monument—is at risk.
Our partners at the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters (CTLCV) have been working to safeguard the 4,913 miles the protected area encompasses, alongside “people from across the country that have raised their voices and taken action to protect it,” explained Lori Brown, executive director of CTLCV.
Across the state, both those native to the area and those new to the state are advocating for the monument’s protection.
Rev. Ranjit K. Mathews is a spiritual leader and rector at St. James Episcopal Church in New London, CT. Since moving to the region, he’s drawn a distinct connection to the monument with his congregation, noting it’s their duty to protect God’s earth, be good stewards of the lands and waters, and to care for the environment.
Not too far from Mathews’ church, researchers at the University of Connecticut-Avery Point are also doing their part in conservation efforts to protect the monument.
“The northeast canyons and seamounts area is this incredible concentration of biological diversity and ocean wildlife,” said Peter Auster, science director and emeritus research professor at UCONN, who also serves as the senior research scientist for the Mystic Aquarium. “It starts at the edge of the continental shelf and drops off into the deep sea. There are four seamounts that are within the United States EEZ, an exclusive economic zone, that are extinct underwater volcanos – underwater mountains that rise higher than the Rocky Mountains.”
You can “see the other worldly and diverse organisms that live there,” he said. “They’re fragile, they’re vulnerable to human activities, and this is one of the few places of the entire eastern sea board with a very low amount of existing uses, and it is prime real estate to be able to protect in perpetuity.”
Deep-water images of the monument’s marine life and biological diversity are presently on display at the Mystic Aquarium in a family-friendly exhibit detailing this particular monument, which is one of the 24 monuments under threat by the Trump administration. “We always like to take the local and global approach – this is a wonder, it’s like Dr. Seuss’ gardens,” said Katie Cubina, senior vice president at the Mystic Aquarium, noting Auster’s work is on display. “It’s so bizarre and so fun. This is a way to get kids involved in protecting this spectacular place they normally wouldn’t have a chance to see otherwise.”
And for decades, kids across the country have experienced our natural wonders because generations of lawmakers decided that these places were a critical part of our culture.
Photo: Liam Lopez-Wagner, 2, watches a beluga whale at the Mystic Aquarium, home to a newly-opened exhibit celebrating the biodiversity of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.
“It’s important for us to recognize, not just in Connecticut, but in the nation as a whole, that a hundred years ago this nation chose to invest in protecting national resources,” said Matthew McKenzie, an associate professor at the University of Connecticut, who also serves on the New England Fishery Management Council as Connecticut’s obligatory delegate. “In 1912, the outdoor industry was nothing… The national monuments and national parks have generated tremendous economic benefits to this nation, in terms of the businesses that bring visitors to those areas and support the tourist industry that is built around those national monuments.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal has been a longtime advocate of protecting the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, working with community organizations and business leaders to build public support. In recent years, he led the congressional delegation in Connecticut on many efforts, including urging President Obama to designate the space as a national monument.
The support for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument isn’t limited to Connecticut. In Massachusetts, there has been a surge of activism led by groups like LCV’s state partner the Environmental League of Massachusetts (ELM) Action Fund. They launched a grassroots campaign this summer to preserve marine monuments and the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in the neighboring state of Maine, partnered with groups like the Sierra Club and Conservation Law Foundation to mobilize people in front of the Massachusetts statehouse during a visit to Boston by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and spearheaded a letter to the Massachusetts congressional delegation supporting the Canyons and Seamounts and all of our other national monuments. ELM’s VP for Policy Nancy Goodman published an op-ed in Commonwealth Magazine criticizing Secretary Zinke’s sham “review” of national monuments. It’s clear—as the administration moves forward with unprecedented actions that threaten the places that communities across the country hold dear, people are banding together, refusing to be ignored. And if the administration does not listen and pries these special places from this country’s people in an effort to benefit the fossil fuel industry, we’ll continue to make noise, we’ll continue to hold the administration accountable. We will not stand by and watch our special places be taken away.
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