What do you get for the monument that has it all?

As we celebrate the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument’s fifth birthday, the only thing it really needs is full protection.


Deep sea coral

For most 5-year-olds, getting gifts is the best part of any birthday. But the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which reached its half-decade milestone on Wednesday, is no ordinary 5-year-old. While most 5-year-olds have wish lists 5 pages long, wanting every new thing under the sun, the Canyons and Seamounts is already blessed with abundance: This New England ocean haven is teeming with life. 

Whether it’s dozens of dolphins or scores of sperm whales, rare gems like a 1,600-year-old bamboo coral that was born before the fall of the Roman Empire, or even a real life SpongeBob and Patrick Star, the ocean life that calls this ocean place home is truly incredible. What more could an ocean sanctuary ask for? 

1600 year old coral

Scientists spotted this bamboo coral on a recent dive in the Canyons & Seamounts. Based on coral growth rates, it could be more than 1600 years old! Photo courtesy of NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration

The answer is simple: The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monuments needs full protections for its birthday, and there is only one person who can give that gift: President Joe Biden. 

For those that haven’t had a chance to get to know the Canyons and Seamounts, this marine life hotspot can be found 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod. It’s made up of absolutely mammoth geological features: three underwater canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon and four ancient, underwater volcanoes called seamounts that soar over the ocean floor. 

These gigantic geological features are a huge part of what makes this ecosystem so amazing. Ocean currents swirl around the seamounts and charge up the canyons, lifting nutrients up from the depths and providing food for an array of ocean life. 

This diversity of ocean life was why, on September 15, 2016, President Barack Obama designated the Canyons and Seamounts as a marine national monument, setting this marine haven aside in perpetuity. The designation was designed to protect the corals, sponges and whales from commercial fishing and offshore drilling forever. This would ensure that Americans could celebrate this amazing place for years to come. 

But in June 2020, President Donald Trump rolled back the prohibition on commercial fishing in the monument, leaving the area’s deep sea life and seasonal visitors at risk once again from fishing lines and crab pots. 

When he took office, President Biden initiated a review of the rollbacks to the Canyons and Seamounts’s protections. After finishing that process, his Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, recommended in June that the administration restore the monument’s safeguards. 

Watch now: The Hidden Monument

With that stamp of approval, now is time for Biden to act in order to ensure that all of the inhabitants of the deep canyons and soaring seamounts make it to next year’s birthday party. 

So let’s wish the Monument a belated birthday, and give it the gift of permanent protections.


Kelsey Lamp

Director, Protect Our Oceans Campaign, Environment America Research & Policy Center

Kelsey directs Environment America's national campaigns to protect our oceans. Kelsey lives in Boston, where she enjoys cooking, reading and exploring the city.