Obama has protected more land and water than any other president in history.
By Madeleine Thomas
A sei whale mother and calf. Sei whales are found in the area of the new national monument. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
The first national marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean was announced by the Obama administration on Thursday, part of a final push to cement President Barack Obama’s environmental legacy before he leaves office in January.
Just last month, Obama expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, located off the Northwestern Islands of Hawaii. The move effectively created the largest marine sanctuary in the world. Obama has already protected more land and water—over 265 million acres—than any other president in history.
The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, located about 150 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is a 4,900-square-mile sanctuary rich with three underwater canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon. The new marine area is also home to four seamounts, which, at more than 7,000 feet above the seafloor, are higher than any terrestrial mountain east of the Rocky Mountains, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
“By protecting ecologically sensitive areas of our ocean, the United States is leading on an issue that is important to people on every continent because of the ocean’s connection to food security, shared prosperity, and resiliency.”
The waters of the Northeast United States are particularly fragile — and are on track to warm three times faster than the global average. The new marine monument is also home to hundreds of rare and unusual creatures, including a host of endangered species — like Kemp’s ridley turtles and sei whales — and 15 species of coral only recently discovered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“Teddy Roosevelt had the foresight to protect the treasures of America’s landscape,” NRDC president Rhea Suh said in a statement Thursday. “With that same boldness, President Obama is conserving the crown jewels of our nation’s seascape.”
The Obama administration’s push to conserve precious ocean habitat doesn’t stop in the Atlantic. Later this week, at the third annual Our Ocean conference, Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to unveil more than 120 additional ocean conservation projects, which will preserve more than two million square kilometers of marine habitat.
“By protecting ecologically sensitive areas of our ocean, the United States is leading on an issue that is important to people on every continent because of the ocean’s connection to food security, shared prosperity, and resiliency in the face of climate change,” Kerry said in a press release.
This year alone, more than 900,000 square miles of ocean have been protected internationally, according to the White House. It’s an impressive figure; that’s about 730,000 more square miles of preserved habitat than last year.