Biden proposes a new maritime sanctuary in the Atlantic

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Long ago, the retreat of ice age glaciers carved one of the largest underwater canyons in the world into the seabed about a hundred miles from New York City. Hundreds of species now live there, including sperm whales, sea turtles and offshore corals.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration will announce that it intends to designate the area a new national marine sanctuary, which would give it some of the same protections given to national parks.

The Hudson’s Canyon – nearly 7 miles wide and more than two miles deep in some places – competes with the Grand Canyon in scale. The push to add it to the National Marine Refuge System reflects the Biden administration’s broader efforts to protect critical habitat threatened by development and global warming. keeping 30 percent of the land and waters of the nation by 2030.

“A sanctuary near one of the most densely populated areas of the Northeastern United States would link various communities across the region to the ocean and the canyon in new and different ways,” said Rick Spinrad, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “As someone who grew up in New York City and went on to a career in ocean science, I’m excited about how this amazing underwater environment can inspire a common interest in conserving our ocean.”

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Wednesday is World Ocean Day, when global leaders often make commitments to protect areas on the shores of their nation. Interior Minister Deb Haaland also plans to sign an order to stop the sale of single-use plastic products in national parks, nature reserves and other public lands by 2032. The measure directs the department to find compostable or biodegradable alternatives – an effort to reduce. the federal government’s contribution to the 14 million tons of plastic that end up in the ocean every year.

Some national parks banned the sale of plastic water bottles in 2011 to reduce pollution. Despite evidence that the ban workedthe Trump administration ended it six years later.

Environmentalists applauded the Biden administration’s decision.

“The Department of the Interior’s one-time ban on plastic will curb millions of pounds of unnecessary disposable plastic,” said Christy Leavitt, plastics campaign director for the ocean conservation group Oceana.

The administration will also announce plans on Wednesday to create an ocean climate action plan with guidance on renewable energy development, zero emission emission and other ocean-related efforts to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

Biden officials have not determined the size of the proposed marine sanctuary, which was designated for protection by the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium in 2016. The sanctuary’s outlines – including how it will be named and the types of activities allowed there – will be subject to a public comment period, during which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will seek input from environmentalists, the fishing industry and offshore energy developers, among others.

Before the plan is made finally, the agency must conduct an environmental impact analysis and write a management plan that could take a year or more to complete.

The naturalist William Beebe was the first to explore the Hudson’s Canyon during his 1925 voyage on the high seas in the Baptistery, the first triple submarine. Since 2000, scientists have been working to map the canyon’s seabed, document the species that live within its steep slopes, and explore the leaks that release methane gas from the seabed.

Their research revealed an ecosystem full of wildlife.

Researchers have found at least 200 species of fish, including Atlantic bluefin tuna and dark sharks, within the canyon. During the summer months, endangered sperm whales, dolphins and endangered horse turtles were spotted in the canyon. Along its steep walls, rocky outcrops and rocks are home to anemones, sponges, and slowly growing coral colonies, some of which are thought to be over 1,000 years old.

People have also made their mark.

The canyon holds wrecks and offshore communication cables that connect the East Coast to the rest of the world. Mass containers traveling to the Port of New York and New Jersey pass through its waters, as do whale watching boats and commercial fishing boats. Until the 1990s, when the region changed its dumping practices, the canyon suffered from exposure to sewage and toxins from New York and northern New Jersey. Canyon researchers have documented corals covered with plastic and other debris.

Supporters of designating the Hudson Canyon as a marine sanctuary say it will help fund new research and support the local economy by ensuring the survival of fish, scallops and squid that keep fish farms in business.

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In its nomination proposal to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Wildlife Conservation Society said the canyon “remains a mysterious deep ocean wilderness.”

“Distance from land and the depth of the Canyon has resulted in a limited human presence thus protecting, in large part, its ecological integrity,” it wrote.

The group called for the canyon to be permanently protected from oil, gas and mineral development, but did not call for restrictions on fishing. And although developers plan to build commercial wind turbines on the Atlantic coast, the distance from the canyon to the coast and extreme depths make it an undesirable place for industrial wind projects.

John Calvelli, the society’s vice president of public affairs, said in an interview that the canyon has the potential to become a haven for ocean creatures threatened by climate change.

“The thinking is this area could really become a refuge for species that need colder water,” he said. “We want to make sure we protect it for the future.”

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