Safeguarding Our Marine Jewels

Scientists, aquariums, conservationists and coastal businesses are calling on President Obama to create the first National Marine Monument in the U.S. Atlantic, which would protect a vibrant suite of undersea features, including undersea canyons, deep ocean seamounts, and a rich kelp forest in the Gulf of Maine.

Designating these areas as a National Marine Monument would permanently protect them from commercial-extractive activities, help ensure the health and biodiversity of the region's ocean waters for generations to come, and sustain the diverse fisheries that are so important to New England's thriving marine economy and rich cultural heritage.

The Gulf of Maine's Cashes Ledge Closed Area is home to an underwater mountain range, the peaks, ridges, basins and plains of which serve as a critical habitat for an astonishing array of ocean wildlife. The highest peak in the range, known as Ammen Rock, is home to the deepest and largest remaining cold-water kelp forest along the Atlantic seaboard.

The area is habitat for New England's iconic cod, as well as migrating schools of bluefin tuna, sea turtles, blue and basking sharks, passing pods of highly endangered North Atlantic right whales, and foraging seabirds. Its rugged features and long-term protection from bottom trawling and dredging lead many scientists to believe that the Cashes Ledge Area represents the best remaining example of an undisturbed Gulf of Maine ecosystem, historically one of the richest and most diverse in the world.

The New England Coral Canyon and Seamounts Area is composed of five undersea canyons off the southern New England coast and four nearby seamounts -- the only ones in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean, which together support a remarkable richness and diversity of ocean life. The seamounts (Bear, Mytilus, Physalia and Retriever) and the submarine canyons (Oceanographer, Lydonia, Gilbert, Nygren and Heezen) are home to diverse and fragile habitats, including abundant and vivid deep-sea corals of otherworldly beauty -- some the size of small trees and taking centuries to grow.

The cold-water coral communities form the foundation of a deep-sea ecosystem, providing food, spawning habitat, and shelter for a diverse range of fish and invertebrate species. The dynamic environment of the canyons and seamounts attracts an array of ocean wildlife, including tunas and billfish, sea turtles, seabirds, and what may be the highest diversity of whales and other cetaceans in the North Atlantic.

Because of the area's remote location, depth, and rugged character, it is remarkably pristine, subject to scant fishing pressure and remains a vital frontier for scientific discovery, with research expeditions yielding new and rare species, new understandings about ecological relationships and increased appreciation of the uniqueness of these deep-sea ecosystems.

The Cashes Ledge Area and New England's Coral Canyons and Seamounts Area are striking examples of what a healthy ocean should look like -- a thriving kelp forest or a living seabed covered in rare and vibrant cold-water corals, supporting schools of fish and regular visits by a variety of whales, sea birds, sea turtles, and large predatory fish, like sharks, tuna, and swordfish.

A combination of partial fishing restrictions and remoteness or other natural protective features has kept these special ocean places remarkably free from human disturbance to date. But the push to fish, drill, and mine puts these fragile habitats at risk.

Permanent protection of these offshore marine jewels from all commercial-extractive activity will preserve them as thriving biodiversity hot spots, ocean laboratories, and help build resilience against the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.

America has a long tradition of protecting our remarkable natural heritage and biological bounty. We applaud the Obama Administration's designation of National Monuments to protect our nation's natural heritage treasures both onshore and in the Pacific Ocean. However, no areas in the U.S. Atlantic have received permanent protection against all commercial extractive activity. Now is the time to do so and safeguard these marine treasures for future generations, and help fulfill SDG 14.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, "What's Working: Sustainable Development Goals," in conjunction with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN's Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development -- including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post's commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What's Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 14.

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