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Protect offshore aspect of New England’s natural heritage

Open spaces and protected natural sites offer unparalleled opportunities to find solace and restore our sense of balance during these challenging times. The beauty and grace of our natural resources reminds us that some things remain untouched, holding promise and comfort as we navigate into the future.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration has advanced a series of detrimental rollbacks to some of our most vital environmental protections, including dismantling our precious national monuments. On World Environment Day, June 5, President Trump signed an executive order undoing commercial fishing restrictions in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument. This brings the federal government’s attacks on our environment into Connecticut’s backyard.

The marine national monument is the only one of its kind in the Atlantic Ocean, and it’s situated just a few hundred miles from our shores. It consists of a series of underwater canyons and mountains covering an area about the size of Connecticut. This unique area was given its National Monument designation in 2016. It stands as a shining part of New England’s natural heritage. As the only protected area off the continental U.S. where all commercial extraction has been prohibited, the monument has offered scientists a unique opportunity; a pristine environment that could be used to study climate change and its effects on oceans.

Trump’s action puts the future of this marvelous site in jeopardy. It permits unsustainable fishing practices to return to the monument, which could carry disastrous consequences. These rollbacks will inevitably put hundreds of marine species in close contact with commercial fishing vessels, potentially causing irreversible damage to the sea floor and devastating hundreds of threatened and endangered marine species, including sea turtles, dolphins and endangered Wright Whales.

Recent scientific research conducted in the monument has created invaluable educational opportunities and contributed to major health science advancements. Some of the deep-sea life found in the monument (such as rare sponge species) have been used in developing anti-cancer drugs and other remarkable uses! And yet, no one knows what future breakthroughs remain undiscovered within the Canyons and Seamounts.

The Northeast Canyons and Seamount National Monument and its visually-spectacular and complex ecosystems are invaluable tools for educating future generations about the natural world around us, yet their status as a pristine ocean environment may soon be lost for good.

Connecticut’s congressional delegation has been consistent champions for the monument, first proposing its designation to the national monument system by the Obama administration, and then stepping forward in protest when it has been threatened. We must call upon them to use every tool at their disposal to combat these rollbacks. Their support was essential in creating the marine national monument, and we need their help in defending it once again.

Louis Rosado Burch is the Connecticut program director for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

 

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