A large bubblegum coral (Paragorgia arborea) was observed during a dive to the Retriever Seamount during NOAA's 2021 North Atlantic Stepping Stones expedition. PHOTO COURTESY OF NOAA

Maritime Shorts: Whale and marine area protections

Call to enforce laws for stronger whale protections 

WASHINGTON — A nonprofit ocean conservation organization claims that the federal government has violated a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico by failing to enforce environmental laws to protect the North Atlantic right whale. 

Oceana alleged last week that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several other federal agencies were not effectively implementing environmental laws to protect the endangered whale species from fishing gear entanglements, vessel strikes and stressors from climate change, ocean noise and offshore energy development.  

“It is clear that the U.S. government is failing North Atlantic right whales, and we hope this action will finally get these whales the protections they require,” said Whitney Webber, campaign director at Oceana, in a statement. “Oceana’s submission not only outlines all the ways that the government has failed to uphold its own environmental laws to protect North Atlantic right whales, but it also requires a government response.” 

Oceana filed a “Submission on Enforcement Matters” under the United State-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a trade deal between the three countries. Under the agreement, a party can file a submission with the Commission for Environmental Cooperation secretariat if they believe environmental laws are not being enforced. 

The secretariat for the commission will review the allegations and Oceana hopes that the submission forces the federal government to enact more stringent protections. 


Marine area protections reinstated 

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden took action last week to restore protections in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in the northwest Atlantic Ocean.  

“Fully restoring the protections for the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Monument underscores the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to conservation,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo. “The rich diversity of species in the monument include rare and endangered marine life –from deep-sea corals and fish to whales and sea turtles – that continue to be threatened by the climate crisis. With this proclamation we acknowledge the importance to protecting their ongoing contributions to scientific knowledge, ecosystem health and the sustainability of our planet.” 

In 2016, President Barack Obama established the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, a nearly 5,000-square-mile area of ocean, and prohibited drilling, dredging and commercial fishing there. 

In 2020, President Donald Trump revoked the prohibition on commercial fishing in the area.  

The Biden administration move last week reinstalled protections for the area, which is home to a rich diversity of deep-sea corals, whales, sea turtles and several other marine species.  

The move was praised by the National Audubon Society, which reported earlier this year that Maine’s puffins have been struggling due to issues connected to climate change.  

“This is a victory, not just for seabirds like Atlantic Puffins, but also for many coastal communities in New England that depend on a healthy ocean,” said Donald Lyons, director of conservation science for Audubon’s Seabird Institute.  “Northeast Canyons and Seamounts is a critical place that allows seabirds to rest and stock up on fish during the harsh winter. The unique habitats there also support abundant populations of fish, whales, and other marine life that are vital to our coastal economy.” 

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