Marine Monument

May 14, 2017
By Damond Benningfield
Episode:

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Map of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. Credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

A new national monument is a wonderland of mountains, canyons, and wildlife. Few will ever see it directly, though, because it’s thousands of feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.

President Barack Obama created the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument in September of 2016. It’s about 150 miles southeast of Cape Cod, and it covers almost 5,000 square miles. It’s the first American marine monument in the Atlantic.

It includes three canyons that are deeper than the Grand Canyon. They were cut into the edge of the continental shelf in part by currents that carry sediments from land. It also includes four extinct underwater volcanoes, called seamounts, which are taller than the Appalachian Mountains. They all belong to the New England Seamount Chain, which was created a hundred million years ago. The tallest seamount in the monument rises to within about 3,000 feet of the surface.

A 2013 expedition to the region found an amazing variety of life. Scientists discovered 15 species of coral that had never been cataloged before, including some that were as tall as trees. They also found sperm whales, sharks, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, and many other varieties of fish, mammals, and other creatures.

The national monument designation protects most of them from commercial fishing operations. It also prohibits exploration for oil and other resources -- preserving this wonderland on the bottom of the Atlantic.