“President Obama established the first national marine monument off the east coast of the United States.”
By Dr. John J. Hidore
March 19, 2017—-President Obama joined an elite group of people that led to the establishment of our national parks and monuments. Two of those men were John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act in 1906 under which many of our national parks and monuments were established. The Antiquities Act gives the president the authority to set aside sites that are historically or scientifically important.
The Antiquities Act of 1906
Since Roosevelt signed the act more than a thousand different marine protected areas have been created. President Obama used this act to further our federal park system 29 times during his eight years in office. Some of the area is on land and some is in the global ocean. President Obama set aside more ocean environments, as monuments and reserves, than any other person in history. Altogether he added more than 850 thousand square miles (1.3+ million km2) of ocean for new reserves and additions to existing one.
Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine Monument
Under American law oceans existing within 200 nautical miles of land can be included in protected reserves. On September 5, 2016 President Obama established the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. It is the first national marine monument off the east coast of the United States. It covers approximately 4,913 square miles (12,725 sq km) and includes two separate sections that are near each other. One includes three canyons cut into the continental shelf, and the other includes four extinct volcanoes or seamounts that exist on the deep sea floor off the shelf.
Seamounts of the Oceans
Along much of the Atlantic coast of the United States there exists an underwater shelf that extends out to sea for a great distance. Scattered along the edge of this shelf are deep canyons cut into the edge. The canyons drop thousands of feet. The exact origin of these canyons is unclear. One section of the monument includes three of these canyons. The larger section of the monument includes four seamounts. A feature of this section is that approximately 50 species of deep sea coral reside nearby. Some at depths of more than 12,800 feet (3900 meters). Commercial fishing and the taking of any physical or organic material from the site is prohibited. Some crab and lobster harvesting will be allowed for several years but then terminated.
Papahänaumokuäkea Marine National Monument includes the Hawaiian Islands and extends to the northwest to include Midway and other islands. This monument was first created by George W. Bush. In 2016 Obama quadrupled the size of the reserve. It now includes nearly 600,000 square miles (966,000km2) of ocean islands making it the largest marine reserve in the world. It is also the largest single area protected by the United States and is a United Nation Heritage Site. It contains thousands of marine species, half of them unique to the Hawaiian Islands.
Seamounts and the Tropical Oceans
One of the significant aspects of the marine monuments and preserves that Obama set aside is that they are north of the tropic of Cancer. Most coral reefs are in the tropical oceans. These reefs are being destroyed by bleaching due to warming water. The most severe damage to coral reefs is between the equator and 30 degrees either side of the equator. More than 30 countries in this region have reported bleaching to offshore reefs.
The establishment of the reserves and monuments in higher latitudes not only stops damage by fishing and collecting but promises to provide time to study the reef life before the seas have a chance to warm enough to destroy them. Thanks President Obama!