Preserve our marine monument
As Christians, we often get insights about our Creator in the natural world: in God’s creation. On the East Coast, God’s marine creation is particularly a source of inspiration.
Off our coast, below the ocean’s surface, are canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon, covered in ancient corals thick as forests and the size of small trees. Within the same area are seamounts: extinct underwater volcanoes taller most mountains east of the Rocky Mountains. These unique geological features are a rich habitat for a wild diversity of creatures, including endangered whales and sea turtles. Recent expeditions by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have led to discoveries of new species in this area.
If these natural wonders were on land, the United States would have conserved them by making them into a wildlife sanctuary, national park, or national monument decades ago. Yet, for many years, we did not know much about them. Only through the modern miracles of technology have we recently even begun to understand New England’s ocean treasures in the depths near our coastline.
As New Englanders learned about the precious natural wonders off our coast, momentum grew to protect them for future generations. Fortunately, thanks in no small part to the leadership of Sen. Richard Blumenthal, in September of 2016 President Obama responded to the groundswell of marine conservation support and used his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to protect these unique places in God’s creation. Now, we celebrate our Marine Monument. It is the first and only monument in the Atlantic Ocean. We pray that it will help foster stronger community stewardship and reverence for God’s marine creation.
Now, two executive orders President Trump issued in late April threaten to take marine protections away. One executive order calls for large national monuments created after 1996 to go under “review” to assess whether they should be eliminated or shrunk. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke had until July 10 to collect public comments on more than two dozen monuments, many of which were decades in the making. His recommendations report is due to President Trump on Aug. 24. Another executive order, “America First Offshore Energy Strategy,” calls on the Department of Commerce to assess offshore drilling potential in our national waters. As part of that process, NOAA is collecting public comments until July 26 at www.regulations.gov to assess whether various marine sanctuaries and monuments should be eliminated or shrunk.
In mid-June Secretary Zinke made a one-day trip to Boston to gather data for his review of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, meeting with only two stakeholder groups: scientists from the New England Aquarium and several representatives from the fishing industry. Marine scientists are calling on decision-makers to conserve our natural heritage before it is lost. Some members of the fishing industry claim the monument bars them from too large an area. The monument area was already reduced from the proposed size, specifically as a concession the Obama administration made to the fishing industry. Cashes Ledge and one of the canyons in the original proposal were left out, and two fishing industries will get seven years’ grace period to shift their fishing locations.
Secretary Zinke has only collected a fraction of the information necessary to determine the importance of the monument to New Englanders. The monument received tremendous support from faith leaders and local businesses.
The monument’s biodiversity and ecosystems will help fishermen in the long run by helping to keep the Atlantic healthy and teeming with life. A healthy ocean is also good for ocean tourism and recreation — serving as job opportunities for some, while providing offering others opportunities to enjoy God’s creation and restore their spirits.
God’s creation needs our care. It is our highest calling to exercise responsible stewardship over creation. For this reason, we urge Secretary Zinke to return to New England, meet with stakeholders beyond the fishing and scientific communities, and learn why we need this monument. We also urge NOAA to preserve our Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.
Rev. Ranjit K. Mathews is the rector of St. James Episcopal Church in New London. Shantha Ready Alonso is the executive director of Creation Justice Ministries, based in Washington, D.C.