An Op-Ed in The Patriot Ledger by New England Aquarium President and CEO

Americans live our lives around the pull of the oceans. And nowhere is that more true than in New England.

Along New England’s coast, we make our living from the ocean, plan vacations to enjoy the ocean, and understand that our economic fate is closely tied to a healthy ocean.

This is why we worked to create the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument two years ago. History showed us that we needed to take a longer view and care for our ocean resources if we wanted to bestow this rich heritage on our children. And science told us a national monument was the best way to do this, setting up an oasis off our shores.

whale at surface
A sperm whale photographed during a recent aerial survey of the Monument | Credit: NEAQ/ACCOL

Despite this, the Trump Administration wants to rollback protections to the monument—taking a giant step backward. This will leave the monument vulnerable to damaging extractive industries that want to raid this protected area for their own gains.

Roughly 130 miles southeast of Cape Cod, where the continental drops into the inky, black abyss below, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument protects three massive undersea canyons, some deeper than the Grand Canyon, and four underwater mountains, formed millions of years ago by volcanic activity. These mountains rise 7,000 feet above the ocean floor—taller than the highest peaks in the White Mountains. In fact, they’re higher than anything east of the Rockies.

ROV Deep Discoverer investigates a diverse deep-sea coral habitat on Retriever Seamount. | Credit: NOAA Office of Exploration and Research

It’s not just where the monument is that makes it so special, but everything that calls it home. This remarkable seascape is so teeming with wildlife, it’s often called the “Serengeti of the sea.”

Hundreds of different species live in these protected canyons and seamounts, including dolphins, endangered sperm whales, rare beaked whales, and sea turtles, to name just a few. New creatures are discovered with every exploration. Just last week, New England Aquarium scientists conducted an aerial survey of the monument and saw over 600 animals, including dolphins, manta rays, and sunfish. They even spotted two elusive beaked whales. In the time we’ve been surveying the monument, we’ve never seen this many animals in the same day!

We know all of this thanks to decades of work by scientists at the New England Aquarium and Mystic Aquarium and colleagues at the National Ocean Protection Coalition, Conservation Law Foundation, and National Resources Defense Council. Indeed, the New England Aquarium was instrumental in providing the strong scientific evidence that helped designate this blue park a national monument. As President and CEO of the New England Aquarium, I promise that as we fought for the monument’s creation, we will continue to fight for this crown jewel of the Northeast.

It’s simply impossible to overstate the uniqueness of this habitat and its value as the most protected region in the U.S. Atlantic.

And let’s be clear about what it protects: Us. Our way of life. Our values. Our future.

The monument should be here to stay. At the Aquarium, we are using everything we have to get that message loud and clear into the Trump White House. And we need you to stand with us.

The truth is, the monument works. It actually strengthens our fishing future. Just as parks improve the neighborhoods that surround them, protected marine spaces improve the ocean around them. Studies around the world show that marine protected areas enhance fishing by causing a “spillover effect.” When fish stocks build up within a protected area, they “spill over” into other areas. The ocean can continue to produce what we need, but only if we preserve it. And to preserve it, we need to protect it. By preserving the monument, scientists can study the spillover phenomenon in this region to determine if the protections here provide the same rich fishery and economic benefits as elsewhere in the world.

deepwater corals
A "Feather star" crinoid photographed on the Mytilus Seamount. | Credit: NOAA Office of Exploration and Research

We know the monument is popular: 78 percent of Massachusetts and Rhode Island residents support protections for canyons, seamounts, and deep-sea corals—like those found in the monument.

The New England Aquarium is one of the most visited places in New England. People come here to see the ocean’s wonders. This monument is a symbol of our love. It is how we say we will take care of this place that defines us and our destiny. For those people who ask, “What can I do?” Stand with me. Whether you are a recreational fisher who fishes for fun, whales’ number one fan, a clam shack owner, or a beach lover, the ocean needs you now.

The Trump Administration is serious about taking away this monument that is doing so much good for our region. But we are even more serious about taking care of the ocean, because we know that when we do, it takes care of us. It is time to show the ocean how serious we are.

Vikki Spruill