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Obama Creates Atlantic Ocean's First Marine National Monument

A NOAA ship investigates underwater canyons.

President Barack Obama has signed an order protecting a section of underwater mountains and canyons off New England's coast. It's the first marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean.

Deep sea coral, endangered whales, and sea turtles are just a few of the things the White House said will now be protected under the order signed by the President.

"I always describe it as climbing mountains from the top down," said Peter Auster, a senior research scientist at Mystic Aquarium who has explored the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts first-hand using underwater robots and by sitting in submarines.

"We're not looking at [this area] in black white stippled diagrams from scientific journals alone anymore," Auster said. "We can see these in color and high definition video and you can tune in on the web. I think there's a confluence of both our ability to work in these places and then -- in real time, or in near real time -- distribute these to an interested public."

Auster said that confluence has helped to kick-start public, and political, interest in preserving spots underwater. 

Credit Brian Skerry/CLF/NRDC
Anemone on Cashes Ledge in the Gulf of Maine. The ledge includes the deepest and largest cold-water kelp forest on the Atlantic seaboard.

Last month, President Obama expanded a marine national monument off the coast of Hawaii, creating the world's largest marine protected area.

This new zone is about 150 miles off the Coast of Cape Cod. It's sized about the same as Connecticut, and because of the designation, recreational fishing will be allowed, but commercial fishing won't be.

Credit The Pew Charitable Trusts
The Pew Charitable Trusts

Bob Vanasse, executive director of the fisheries industry group Saving Seafood, opposes the measure.

He said the canyons are so deep fishermen wouldn't be going down there anyway. "Why is it necessary to take this action," he said, "if fishing for species such as red crab, swordfish, tuna, squid have all taken place over these locations for years?"

Lobster and red crab fisheries have seven years to comply. The move will also prohibit any underwater drilling and mining. 

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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