In October, the Ocean Elders sent a letter to President Barack Obama to support the permanent and full protection of the New England coral canyons and seamounts.
Dear President Obama,
We write to enthusiastically support permanent and full protection of the New England coral canyons and seamounts area, along with Cashes Ledge, as the first national marine monument off the U.S. Atlantic Coast.
The New England coral canyons and seamounts area is composed of five undersea canyons off the southern New England coast and four nearby seamounts – the only ones in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean – that support a remarkable richness and diversity of ocean life. The seamounts (Bear, Mytilus, Physalia , and Retriever) and the submarine canyons (Oceanographer, Lydonia, Gilbert, Nygren and Heezen) are home to diverse and fragile habitats, including ancient coral gardens. The dynamic ocean environment of the canyons and seamounts attracts an array of ocean wildlife, including whales, sea turtles, tunas, and sea birds . A number of these species are iconic for the region, such as sperm whales and North Atlantic right whales, and are among those that support New England’s vibrant whale watching, recreational fishing, and seabird viewing industries.
Cashes Ledge holds an underwater mountain range whose steep ridges and deep basins foster a vibrant world of ocean life. The highest peak on the ledge, known as Ammen Rock, is the site of the deepest and largest kelp forest along the Atlantic seaboard. The ecosystem created by the unique features of Cashes Ledge and its current protection provide a refuge habitat and food source for overexploited, threatened, or rare species such as New England’s iconic cod, porbeagle sharks, and the Atlantic wolffish. Migrating schools of bluefin tuna, sea turtles, and passing pods of highly endangered North Atlantic right whales (only 400 individuals estimated to remain) and humpback whales are also fairly common at Cashes Ledge, as well as eight commercially important species.
While their depth and isolation have kept these special ocean places largely pristine and free from human disturbance, the push to fish, drill, and mine in deeper and deeper waters may soon put these fragile habitats at risk. Permanent protection of the New England canyons and seamounts and Cashes Ledge will preserve them as thriving biodiversity hot spots and living marine laboratories. Such protection can also build resiliency against the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification, which is occurring as more carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean and makes it more difficult for corals and other marine animals to generate skeletons and shells.
While protected habitat areas cannot prevent ocean warming and acidification, they do help preserve genetic diversity, which will be vital for the ocean’s inhabitants to be able to withstand more acidic and warmer conditions.
Now is the time to safeguard these deep sea treasures and avoid irreversible damage to remarkable ecosystems. For these reasons, we support a national marine monument that permanently protects the five New England coral canyons and seamounts and cashes Ledge from all commercial and extractive activities. We thank you for your work to recognize and protect America’s outstanding marine treasures.
The Ocean Elders
Photo Credit: Mountains in the Sea 2004. NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration; Dr. Les Watling, Chief Scientist, University of Maine