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Don’t ruin our underwater Grand Canyon

Last year, I participated in a joyous celebration of our New England Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument at the Mystic Aquarium. It was a time to pause and reflect on the beauty of creation, and to remember the gift of mystical unity which has been offered to us by our Creator. It was a moment to remember that too often, humanity has entered into an “I – it” relationship with the Earth, instead of an “I- thou” understanding, which the Jewish theologian, Martin Buber so beautifully articulated. The celebration at the Mystic Aquarium helped me to cultivate gratitude for the gift of the canyons and all the inhabitants.

As this monument has only recently won federal designation, many are still unaware of our Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. Our own U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal had an instrumental role in ensuring its protection. The monument is located about 150 miles southeast of Cape Cod. Encompassing three deep sea canyons and four undersea mountains, it is the first national monument to be so designated in the U.S. portion of the Atlantic Ocean. (There are multiple national monuments in the Pacific Ocean.)

The incredible beauty of this unique underwater geologic formation has resulted in some calling it “The Grand Canyon and Rocky Mountains of New England.” When viewing video footage of this area recorded by the New England Ocean Odyssey, some have likened experience of virtually delving into the monument area as seeing the natural world’s version of the great gothic cathedrals. Marine biologists view this area as an invaluable “biodiversity hot spot” that supports a rich assortment of plant, fish and bird life.

This underwater area is home to fragile deep-sea coral that are thousands of years old. It is an underwater sanctuary teeming with ocean life with a huge diversity of marine mammals, sea turtles and seabirds.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Commerce as well as the U.S. Department of Interior assessed whether and how some of the monument area should be used for commercial activity. No action has yet been taken by any government entity to dismantle our marine monument. Yet the possibility remains as a looming threat.

Unfortunately, many ecosystems, including the one in our marine monument, are facing unrelenting commercial pressure as humans find new ways and places to drill, mine, and commercially fish. Permanently harming this marine ecology could be compared to using dynamite on the Grand Canyon, cutting the redwood trees in Yosemite or cementing the geysers of Yellowstone.

Lifting our voices today can make a difference for God’s creation tomorrow. It is important that we, the public, responsible as active participants in our democracy, consider what it means in this time to be caretakers of God’s magnificent creation.

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.



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