Boston Herald

Taking a stand for marine life & our fragile ocean

- By STEPHEN M. COAN and VIKKI N. SPRUILL Stephen M. Coan is president and CEO of Mystic Aquarium and Vikki N. Spruill is president and CEO of the New England Aquarium.

We need bold action from our global leaders to address the current biodiversi­ty and climate crisis, a threat that can no longer be spoken of in the future tense. This month, President Biden took such action by restoring protection­s to the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, the only marine monument in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean. Because of this, New England’s rich marine life will be better protected from human activity, including the impact of climate change.

The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is located approximat­ely 130 miles off the coast of New England and includes four undersea mountains and three undersea canyons. Roughly the size of Connecticu­t, this region is renowned for its biodiversi­ty, including longlived, deep-sea coral communitie­s and large concentrat­ions of marine wildlife, including endangered deepdiving sperm whales and critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. Species that frequent the monument include a vast array of whales, dolphins, seabirds and sea turtles, as well as large predatory fish such as tuna, billfish, swordfish and sharks.

Mystic Aquarium’s Dr. Peter Auster and New England Aquarium’s Dr. Scott Kraus spent decades studying the region. In 2016, we worked together with regional collaborat­ors such as University of Connecticu­t and Conservati­on Law Foundation to build a strong case for setting aside this area as a Marine National Monument. Sen. Richard

Blumenthal (D-Conn.) submitted a proposal with large support across the New England congressio­nal delegation to President Obama, urging him to protect the area from harmful activities such as offshore oil and gas drilling, deep seabed mining and commercial-scale fishing. Establishi­ng this marine protected area conserves biodiversi­ty and provides a refuge for ocean wildlife, particular­ly in the face of climate change.

President Obama designated the canyons and seamounts as a marine national monument in 2016, drawing on research showing the biological richness and fragility of the area.

Since its designatio­n, the protection­s for the monument have been challenged, and last summer, an executive order from President Trump lifted the restrictio­n on commercial fishing, reopening this fragile area to destructiv­e practices. In response, Sen. Blumenthal and 18 of his colleagues — including Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — submitted a letter opposing this action. This helped pave the way for the Biden administra­tion to call for a review of the rollback of protection­s for this monument, as well as two land monuments in Utah — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante.

President Biden restored protection­s for all three monuments. This would not have been possible if Sen. Blumenthal had not been such a strong ocean champion for the monument. Fellow New England congressio­nal leaders Massachuse­tts Sen. Ed Markey, Rhode Island Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Jack Reed, and then-Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo also helped the Obama administra­tion shape the original proposal, including input from Sen. Markey to support New England’s fishing industry in the process.

Likewise, collaborat­ion between scientists at Mystic Aquarium and the New England Aquarium led to a study published in July in Frontiers in Marine Science that found that opening the monument to commercial fishing would impact protection of marine species that inhabit the vital 3.14 million acre area. President Biden’s action restores that protection.

The creation of the monument off the coast of New England provides a great opportunit­y for scientists to study this spectacula­r “living laboratory” and better understand how the ocean works. At Mystic Aquarium, we have been able to share this natural wonder with the public through the creation of an immersive exhibit about the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. The exhibit has reached millions of visitors, including thousands of school children, and has been expanded through the support of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which co-manages the monument along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheri­c Administra­tion.

We thank the Biden administra­tion, Sen. Blumenthal and other members of the New England delegation for their continued commitment to science, to conserving our natural heritage and to protecting special places in the ocean.

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