In 1974, I led an expedition to explore the great New England Seamount Chain. Thousands of feet underwater, the chain includes four underwater volcanic mountains that formed over 100 million years ago when the North American plate migrated over a “hot spot” — an area where heat rising through the earth melts rock into magma, creating massive undersea volcanoes like in the Hawaiian Islands.
Standing high above the surrounding ocean floor, these massive undersea mountains are visible oases of life in an otherwise vast, undersea desert. On their rocky slopes, fragile deep sea corals feed in the nutrient rich waters that flow past.
Protecting these unique habitats is critical to the survival of not only these beautiful coral gardens, but also the small fish and other marine creatures that call these magical gardens home. They need these nurseries of the very deep in order to survive. And we need them — as a foundational element of our food chain.
That’s why I am so pleased that today President Obama designated the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument — protecting these mountains and canyons, their surrounding area, and the wildlife they sustain for our future.
As the first-ever national marine monument established in the Atlantic Ocean, this designation is vital to both the ongoing protection of some of our most important underwater ecosystems and the future climate resiliency of our oceans, which are essential guardians of our future.
The monument will provide refuge for protected animals, like sea turtles and whales, as well as species of coral found nowhere else on Earth. It also encompasses three underwater canyons that are even deeper than the Grand Canyon.
Protecting this area bolsters the sea’s ability to sustain itself, but it is also critical to protecting ourselves — and our future. It’s also an ongoing reflection of President Obama’s commitment to conservation. To date, he has protected more land and water than any other president in history.
That’s pretty incredible.
I hope you’ll take a moment to explore this awe-inspiring deep sea wonder and celebrate our first Atlantic monument with me.
Dr. Bob Ballard
Department of Ocean Engineering
The University of Rhode Island