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Obama Creates Atlantic Ocean’s First Marine Reserve

The Atlantic Ocean’s first marine reserve is the latest in a series created by President Obama.

There has been some good news for the world’s oceans in the last few weeks. Announcements of several new protected areas, including the largest in the world, have been cause for celebration. Marine reserves, however, tend to cluster in the Caribbean or the Pacific, particularly in the Coral Triangle. Lawmakers have historically ignored the Atlantic Ocean. But that’s about to change, as President Obama has created the Atlantic Ocean’s first marine reserve.

Obama announced on September 13th that he will create the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument, off the New England coast. He’ll use his executive power to create national monuments to do so. During his presidency, Obama has increased the area of marine reserves in U.S. waters by over 20 times.

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument

The Atlantic Ocean’s first marine reserve covers 4,913 square miles. It features unique topography, which serves as a home for deep-sea corals, turtles and whales. Located 130 miles east of Cape Cod, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument will be the size of Connecticut.

“This spectacular ocean wilderness has plummeting canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon, undersea mountains taller than anything east of the Rockies, and sublimely beautiful deep-sea corals that blossom out of the depths, and are as ancient as the redwoods,” says Brad Sewell, who oversees work on fisheries and Atlantic Coast issues at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The designation as a national monument means all oil and gas exploration and drilling, as well as most commercial fishing, is to cease within the area in the next 60 days. This decision has, of course, not gone without protest from the area’s fishing industry. In an effort to appease local fishermen, the national monument area is somewhat smaller than the original proposal. The financially important lobster and red-crab fishery will continue in the area for seven years.

Marine reserves are important for marine life. Pollution, warming waters due to global climate change, and intensive fishing practices have all put untenable pressure on the ocean. Studies have indicated that endangered species can flourish in these safe havens, which help maintain healthy populations in the rest of the ocean as well.