Senator Blumenthal Calls on President Obama to Establish Marine National Monument in New England

On Aug. 4, Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut, with the support of the state’s entire congressional delegation, called on President Obama to designate the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts as a Marine National Monument, leading our region in a critical step toward the permanent protection of this undersea treasure!

We applaud Senator Blumenthal for considering the enormous body of scientific research and public support that exists for this initiative and for his leadership in advancing this important work for the people of Connecticut, the people of New England, the people of the United States, and the people of the world. In this critical time, when we are not only demanding more of our ocean resources but also experiencing the impacts of climate change, it is imperative that we protect important areas to ensure that our ocean ecosystem – which includes its wildlife and habitats – is healthy and thriving, now and into the future.

The New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts, a region 150 miles off of Cape Cod, includes a series of canyons – some deeper than the Grand Canyon – and seamounts, extinct volcanoes rising thousands of feet from the seafloor. The areas house a high diversity of marine species, some of which are rare or only recently discovered. Thousand-year-old coral communities line the deep-sea canyon walls, and the unique geographical formations provide habitats for marine life to thrive. In the water column above, rich food sources from plankton to forage fish support whales, sharks, sea turtle, seabirds, and more.

Protecting the Canyons and Seamounts would provide refuge to a myriad of species, conserve a vital and productive ecosystem, and help fuel many parts of New England’s economy. Designating the Canyons and Seamounts as a Marine National Monument is an essential step in building a healthy future for our region’s ocean ecosystems.

Since last fall, more than 300,000 signatures in support of permanently protecting these incredible ocean treasures have been collected and delivered to the White House. It’s clear that the people want President Obama to conserve ocean areas just as we’ve protected special land areas in America for more than 110 years.

We are asking President Obama to extend his legacy of conservation to the Atlantic Ocean, where no monuments exist.

We hope that President Obama moves swiftly to make this proposal a reality; and we will continue to call on him and future administrations to build upon this progress by designating one of New England’s biodiversity hotspots, Cashes Ledge, as a Marine National Monument.

Read the full letter from the Connecticut delegation to President Obama here, and more reactions from our coalition here.

Then,  to say “thank you” for his leadership!

Exploring for Oil Off Nova Scotia Threatens Ocean Wildlife and Our Coastal Economy

In New England, witnessing a whale breach the ocean’s surface is an awe-inspiring experience reminding us of the complex and magnificent undersea metropolis that’s just below the surface. Whales ­– humpback, minke, North Atlantic right whales, and more – are iconic New England marine life, bringing people in droves each year to experience the sight of these majestic creatures, and contributing significantly to New England’s coastal economies.

Unfortunately, recent developments by our neighbors to the north put whales and the region’s economy at risk. Earlier this month, Nova Scotia’s government granted final approval to a Norwegian energy company, Statoil, to begin offshore oil exploration just east of Georges Bank, off the coast of the province’s Scotian Shelf. This exploratory lease area is in addition to two others, owned by Shell Canada and BP Canada, which have permission to begin the process of testing for oil.

While Canada has a moratorium on oil exploration in Georges Bank, similar to our own, the country has otherwise aggressively pursued offshore oil and gas development in the Atlantic. These new leases near Georges Bank are too close for comfort.

The Gulf of Maine, and Georges Bank especially, is an ecologically sensitive and biologically-rich area, and new oil exploration poses significant and immediate threats to the region’s ecosystems, particularly to marine mammals such as the North Atlantic right whale.

Seismic testing

When drilling occurs, the risks are massive – the worst of which is an oil spill. But even before any drilling occurs, irreversible damage can occur. The first step a company takes in testing for oil is to conduct seismic testing, a process that uses air gun blasts to scan areas for mineral deposits. These blasts must be loud enough to reach the ocean floor, where sensors record and send the data back up to the surface.

During seismic testing, companies run these blasts repeatedly, often 10 seconds apart, 24 hours a day, for many days in a row.

If you can imagine being exposed again and again to an extremely loud, unknown noise for weeks at a time, I think you can understand why this is a problem. As complex creatures who rely on sound waves to communicate, whales are especially at risk. The noise is loud enough to mask whale calls over thousands of miles, causing confusion that could lead to habitat abandonment, putting them at risk for displacement. The constant noise can also cause temporary or permanent hearing loss, disruptions to normal feeding and mating habits, and chronic health problems from increased stress levels – all of which can have a major impact on the species’ ability to rebound.

All marine life is important to healthy ocean ecosystems in the Gulf of Maine, but the endangered North Atlantic right whale would be the most vulnerable to seismic testing. Only around 500 whales are alive today, putting them at dire risk of extinction. Threatening even one of these whales threatens the entire species at a time when every whale counts.

A Safe Haven

With climate change and overfishing already putting pressure on our ocean habitats, providing a safe haven for North Atlantic right whales – and all of the marine creatures that depend on a healthy ocean – is more important than ever before.

Conservation Law Foundation has long fought to protect our ocean wildlife – including taking fisheries managers to task for failing to protected some of New England’s most iconic groundfish species from near extinction. Last year, we worked to ensure protections for North Atlantic right whales when Deepwater Wind sought to create the first offshore wind farm in the Rhode Island Sound. Working with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Wildlife Federation, we successfully came to an agreement with the company to limit pre-construction activities for the turbines during seasons when right whales migrate through the area.

Risks posed from oil exploration are real and happening now, we cannot sit passively by while oil interests threaten our coastal economies and endangered species. Unfortunately, the United States cannot stop Canadian oil exploration in nearby waters. But we can send a strong signal to our northern neighbor by permanently protecting critical ocean areas that can serve as a safe haven for threatened species.

Designating the Cashes Ledge Area and the New England Canyons and Seamounts as the Atlantic’s first Marine National Monument would send a strong message that these areas are important national and international interests worth protecting.

International Surfing Day – A holiday my husband can get behind

It’s no secret that my husband is not a huge fan of holidays. The pomp and circumstance confuse and overwhelm him. This is not the case for International Surfing Day—a day that he wholeheartedly embraces and celebrates to the fullest extent every year—a day when it is him, not our children, who rises jittery with the promise of holiday-making swells in the North Atlantic.

International Surfing Day is a global celebration of our oceans and beaches organized by the Surfrider Foundation. Friday, June 20th marks the 10th Annual International Surfing Day, and beachgoers and surfers will host more than 140 events ranging from beach cleanups to surf contests in over 30 countries.

Granted living in New Hampshire does not always mean rideable waves or the warmest of waters, but a day in recognition of the dynamic sport that allows you to interact with the ocean in unique and inspiring ways is enough to celebrate regardless of the conditions. That is why tomorrow afternoon will be particularly sad for my husband—not because our family will be heading to Jenness Beach in Rye, NH to join other local families participating in Surfrider’s beach cleanup and play in the waves, but because he had rotator cuff surgery a month ago and is under strict instructions not to paddle out under any circumstances.

CLF's Jen Felt
CLF’s Jen Felt

We will pack a surfboard anyway, because while he is running around on the beach after our children with his one good arm, I will be out on the water attempting to carve inspiration. Do you want to know why? I love celebrating International Surfing Day too. That’s why I do the work I do as part of CLF’s oceans team—protecting the oceans is vital to ensuring that we can enjoy celebrations like International Surfing Day now and far into the future.

Feature image via CLF’s Jen Felt