Atlantic Marine Monument Protects Both the Economy and Environment

By BERL HARTMAN

How can we help ensure that our New England ocean economy continues to thrive? The answer: maximize protection for biological hot spots that nurture vulnerable populations of fish and other sea life. That’s exactly why our country created undersea monuments.

However, it’s not clear that everyone got the message. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke visited New England last week as part of his review of more than two dozen national monument designations.

The Trump administration apparently plans to scale back or even revoke federal monument protections for some of our nation’s most treasured lands and ocean areas. One monument in the cross hairs is the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts — the first marine national monument off the Atlantic Coast.

There are countless, well-documented scientific reasons for protecting these treasures. But there’s another motivation for New England, and the United States, to preserve this marine monument: economics.

For an administration that prides itself on viewing policy through the lens of business, unraveling protections for the Canyons and Seamounts would be an unsound move.

This ecologically rich ocean area, about 150 miles off Cape Cod, has five undersea canyons and four dramatic submarine mountains. It is habitat to more than 1,000 species, including endangered sperm whales and Atlantic puffins. It’s also replete with corals, some of which are more than a thousand years old and reach the height of small trees. Scientists who have investigated the area say these coral formations and marine species are unique and extraordinary to behold. They are straight out of Dr. Seuss.

On behalf of the national nonpartisan business group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), I can attest that America’s oceans are a highly valuable economic resource. Preserving a healthy ocean, with abundant populations of fish and other sea creatures, yields tremendous benefits for the region’s economy.

New England’s ocean economy supports more than 230,000 jobs. It brings in $16 billion to the region — much of it from tourism and recreation. Whale watching in New England is big business, with nearly 1 million watchers in 2008. Seabird watching is also popular. Recreational fishermen visit the closer canyons for marlin, tuna and other game fish.

As climate change threatens fish, shellfish and marine mammals elsewhere, protected canyons and seamounts serve as a refuge and nursery for at-risk marine life. Protecting these ocean wildernesses also can help fish populations. Studies show that fisheries adjacent to marine protected areas have seen spillover benefits over time.

As ocean resources are compromised, so too are the industries that depend on healthy and abundant fish and marine wildlife, including tourism, recreation and commercial fishing. In the Northeast, these sectors contribute billions of dollars annually to the gross domestic product.

To protect the outstanding ecological treasures in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument is to support healthy and abundant fish and marine wildlife. And that benefits the regional economy — and the hundreds of thousands of  jobs — that depend on these ocean resources.

Berl Hartman is a founding director of the New England Chapter of Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2).