Hudson Canyon – nearly 7 miles wide and more than 2 miles deep in some places – rivals the Grand Canyon in scale. The pressure to be added to the National Marine Sanctuary System reflects the Biden administration’s broader effort to protect critical habitats threatened by development and global warming by conserving 30 percent of the country’s land and water by 2030.
Rick Spinrad, who heads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said in a statement. “As someone who grew up in New York City and has gone on to a career in oceanography, I am excited about how this amazing underwater environment can inspire a shared interest in preserving our ocean.”
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Wednesday marks World Oceans Day, when world leaders often commit to protecting the areas off their countries’ shores. Home Secretary Deb Haaland also plans to sign an order to phase out the sale of single-use plastic products in national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands by 2032. The measure directs the department to find biodegradable or biodegradable alternatives — an effort to reduce the federal government’s contribution of 14 million Tons of plastic 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 was working, the Trump administration ended it six years later.
Environmentalists applauded the Biden administration’s decision.
“The Department of the Interior’s single-use plastic tires will curb millions of pounds of non-essential disposable plastic,” said Kristi Levitt, Plastics Campaign Manager for Oceana Conservation Group.
The administration will also announce plans Wednesday to draft an Ocean Climate Action Plan with guidance on renewable energy development, zero-emission shipping, and other ocean-related efforts to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
Biden officials did not specify the size of the proposed marine reserve, which was nominated for protection by the New York Aquarium of the Wildlife Conservation Society in 2016. It is subject to a public comment period, during which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will seek input. Environmental advocates, the fishing industry, and marine energy developers, among others.
Before the plan becomes Finally, the agency must conduct an environmental impact analysis and write a management plan, which may take a year or more to complete.
Naturalist William Beebe was the first to discover Hudson Canyon during his 1925 deep-sea expedition in the Pathsphere, the first manned submarine. Since 2000, scientists have worked to map the valley’s sea floor, document the species that live within its steep slopes, and investigate seeps that release methane from the sea floor.
Their explorations revealed a meeting of the ecosystem with wildlife.
The researchers found at least 200 species of fish, including bluefin tuna and dark sharks, within the valley. During the summer months, endangered sperm whales, glass-nosed dolphins and the critically endangered loggerhead sea turtle are spotted in the valley. Along its steep walls, rocky outcrops and boulders contain anemones, sponges, and slow-growing coral colonies, some of which are believed to be over 1,000 years old.
People have also left their fingerprints.
The canyon contains shipwrecks and deep-sea communications cables that connect the East Coast to the rest of the world. Huge container ships traveling to the port of New York and New Jersey pass through its waters, as do whale-watching ships and commercial fishing boats. Until the 1990s, when the area changed dumping practices, the valley suffered from exposure to sewage flows and toxins from New York City and northern New Jersey. Valley explorers have documented plastic-covered coral reefs and other ruins.
Supporters of Hudson Canyon’s design as a marine haven say it will help fund new research and support the local economy by ensuring that the fish, scallops and squid that keep the fisheries running, stay in business.
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In proposing its nomination to NOAA, the Wildlife Conservation Society said the canyon “remains a mysterious wilderness in the deep ocean.”
“The distance from the land and the depth of the valley have limited human presence and thus largely protect its environmental integrity,” she wrote.
The group demanded that the valley be permanently protected from the exploitation of oil, gas and minerals, but did not demand restrictions on fishing. And although the developers plan to build commercial wind farms off the Atlantic coast, the valley’s distance from shore and extreme depths make it an undesirable location for industrial wind projects.
John Calville, the association’s executive vice president of public affairs, said in an interview that the valley has the potential to become a haven for ocean creatures threatened by climate change.
“The thought that this area could really become a refuge for species that need cooler water,” he said. “We want to make sure we protect it for the future.”
An Alaskan indigenous tribe on a remote island north of the Aleutians celebrated Wednesday filtering their coastal waters in the eastern Bering Sea for consideration as a future marine haven.
The Aleut community in St. Poole Island, a federally recognized tribe nominated Alagum Kanuux (Heart of the Ocean), an area off the Pribilof Islands home to more than half the world’s population of fur seals, as well as Steller sea lions and many birds.
The beaches of the Pribilof Islands have taken a hit from oceanic plastic and conservation groups engage in regular clean-ups that produce tens of thousands of pounds of discarded fishing gear and other debris.
Josh Bartlow contributed to this report.
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