Congressional delegation urges Obama to designate national marine monument
The state’s congressional delegation released a letter Thursday in which it urged President Barack Obama to designate the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts 150 miles southeast of Cape Cod as a national marine monument.
The letter boosts an effort led in part by Mystic Aquarium Senior Research Scientist Peter Auster, who has been studying the area, with its diverse marine life, majestic underwater peaks and plummeting canyons, for more than 30 years.
“I think this is a tremendously important step towards making this happen,” said Auster, who was on hand Thursday at the Sound School in New Haven for the announcement by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
“In the history of (naming) national monuments, it is important to have some level of Congressional support in order for the executive branch to use its authority (to designate a site),” Auster said.
He said that if Obama names the site a national monument, it will mark the first time a site in the Atlantic Ocean has been named.
President George W. Bush named four sites in the Pacific as national monuments.
Auster, who traveled to Washington, D.C., several months ago to discuss the designation with congressional officials, said the letter certainly will generate more interest in the effort.
The letter, signed by Sens. Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and U.S. Reps. John Larson, Joe Courtney, Rosa DeLauro, Jim Himes and Elizabeth Esty, urges Obama to designate the site a national monument under the Antiquities Act of 1906.
The letter adds to the effort of 40 separate groups and 300,000 people who have urged Obama to make the designation.
Auster said he hopes Obama will make the designation before he leaves office in January.
“The New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts area, a pristine hotspot of diverse and fragile wildlife and habitats, is deeply deserving of this designation, and we urge you to employ your authority under the Antiquities Act to protect this area ... This area is just as precious as any national park, and its riches just as priceless,” states the letter to the Obama.
It’s the mineral riches that Auster and other scientists are worried mining companies may try to exploit in the area.
Also in the letter, the senators and congressmen outlined what they call “an aquatic treasure of unbelievable bounty” under the surface of the water, including “an abundance and diversity of sea life rivaled in few other places.”
They told Obama that the area is home to at least 73 different species of deep-sea corals — some that can live for a thousand years or longer, as well as “sharks, whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sea birds (such as wintering puffins) and a tremendous diversity of other animals and organisms; many rare and unusual.”
“They inhabit a world of canyons that rivals the Grand Canyon in size and scale and underwater mountains that are higher than any east of the Rockies. These mountains — known as seamounts — rise as high as 7,700 feet from the ocean floor and are the only seamounts in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean,” they wrote.
The mounts summit 3,000 feet below the surface.
The lawmakers also told Obama that scientists with “New England’s most respected aquariums have done an in-depth analysis that demonstrates that the area outlined on the map deserves this kind of protection from the water surface to the sea floor.”
Among the reasons they listed in arguing for designating the 4,000-square-nautical mile area as a monument is to “protect countless species from irreversible damage.”
“Many of the species in the proposed monument are highly sensitive to human activity. A monument designation would protect this part of the ocean from human intrusions that disturb marine life. This area may be relatively unexploited now, but advances in technology make it increasingly likely that commercial efforts could reach these highly vulnerable ecosystems," the lawmakers wrote.
Designation of the area as a national monument would prevent “commercial extraction activities” such as mining, oil and gas drilling, as well as commercial fishing. Activities such as recreational angling, whale watching and boating would be permitted.
After the announcement was made Thursday, the National Coalition for Fishing Communities released a statement saying it previously had expressed its opposition to what it calls “the misuse of the Antiquities Act to designate an Atlantic Marine Monument.”
“A monument designation would subvert the open and transparent process for fisheries management currently in place under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, and threatens the jobs and livelihoods of hardworking fishermen,” stated the group, which comprises fishing organizations, associations and businesses from around the country.
David Frulla and Andrew Minkiewicz of the Fisheries Survival Fund, which represent Atlantic Scallop fishermen, said, “A monument designation, with its unilateral implementation and opaque process, is the exact opposite of the fisheries management process in which we participate. Public areas and public resources should be managed in an open and transparent manner, not an imperial stroke of the pen.”
The congressional delegation also said the designation will help make the ocean more resilient to climate change and ocean acidification and that a “healthier and more robust Atlantic ecosystem also helps ensure more productive fisheries overall.”
They said it also will “support economic activity that depends on healthy oceans such as the recreation and tourism sectors” but would “curtail few current fishing practices, as relatively little seafood is caught in this area.”
Finally, the lawmakers said it would advance science and research and preserve natural history.
In conclusion, they praised Obama for being a leader in protecting marine environments, including expanding one of the existing marine national monuments in the Pacific.
“The time has come to create a monument in the Atlantic. We are joined by thousands of Connecticut residents, over 100 regional businesses, nearly 150 marine scientists, dozens of religious leaders, and major environmental organizations in our request. There is no better time than this year — the 100th anniversary of our national park system — to establish another 'blue park' and cement your legacy as a champion of environmental and historic preservation both on land and at sea,” they wrote.
The federal Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the president the authority to proclaim sites as national monuments in order to protect them. President Theodore Roosevelt declared Devil’s Tower in Wyoming the first national monument in 1906.
There are now 150 sites ranging from the well known, such as the Statue of Liberty, Grand Canyon, Denali and Fort McHenry, to the lesser known, such as Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality, the Dry Tortugas and Rose Atoll.
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