On Friday afternoon, President Joe Biden restored protections to the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, the Atlantic Ocean’s first and only marine national monument. The protections were put in place by President Barack Obama in 2016, but later rolled back by the Trump administration in 2020.
Joining Biden for the proclamation signing on Friday afternoon was Mystic Aquarium President and CEO Stephen Coan, who got the call to travel down to Washington late Thursday night.
“I was so surprised to get the call, and obviously hadn’t made any travel arrangements, so I quickly hurried to do that and made my way down,” Coan said. “It was an honor to be in the White House, and was very exciting to see this culmination of many years of effort.”
The monument designation, which is meant to preserve particularly pristine ocean ecosystems, will prohibit commercial fishing in the nearly 5,000-square mile area.
“This may be the easiest thing I’ve ever done as president so far,” Biden said. “We’re not only saving birds and fish and the livelihoods of people who depend on them, we’re also shoring up the natural defenses to absorb the fury of hurricanes and superstorms.”
Coan said that protecting this region will help mitigate the effects of climate change and that preserving the biological and geological diversity of the area is vital. The monument is home to 1,000-year-old coral reefs, multiple endangered species of whales, dolphins, sharks, sea turtles, and other unique species, like the Atlantic puffin and the whiplash squid. It also serves as a vital nursery area for dolphins and whales.
“The underwater mountain ranges in this area are as high as the Appalachian mountains, and the canyons are almost as deep if not deeper than the Grand Canyon,” Coan said. “The abundance of marine life is incredible, with coral reefs and species unique to the region, so it’s really important that this remains protected.”
The monument is more than 250 miles off the coast of Mystic, but the aquarium has always had a close relationship to the protected area, and has an interactive exhibit about the monument’s ecological diversity.
Commercial fishing in the area resumed after President Donald Trump rolled back the monument’s protections, and Coan said that the industry posed a real threat to the unique ecosystem.
“Not everything has to be fished,” Coan said. “Setting aside some areas of the ocean where fish can swim freely, biodiversity can flourish, and geology can be protected is really critical to our heritage and our future.”