To the Editor:
It’s high season for Vacationland – the time of year when our state’s natural beauty is on full display. But the idyllic summer feels different to me this year, because the fate of some of our most special natural places is uncertain.
Most readers have heard that the Katahdin Woods and Waters monument is under review by the Trump administration and that Secretary Zinke visited the area in June. But we have another nearby monument hanging in the balance: the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, more than 100 miles from Maine’s shores.
Its remote location makes it difficult to visit, but it is no less important an environment. Within the 4,913-square-mile marine monument is Bear Seamount, which rises taller than Acadia, Mount Washington or any other mountain this side of the Rockies. Not far away are deep underwater canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon. Why wouldn’t we think underwater places could be as special and as in need of protection as places on land?
It’s easiest to forget those areas we don’t see so easily. But as the head naturalist for New England’s largest whale watching business, Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co., it is my great privilege to introduce people to some of the ocean’s most magnificent animals. Whale-watching brings in more than $125 million a year and is part of New England’s substantial tourism economy – one that can’t be outsourced. It brings dollars to our coastal communities.
My industry depends on a healthy ocean.
The monument contains amazing deep-sea corals many thousands of feet below the surface. These fragile creatures grow agonizingly slowly over centuries – characteristics that mean they are vulnerable to disturbance and unlikely to easily recover. The habitats they help build support a diverse and abundant marine hot spot – one that attracts fish, whales, sharks and seabirds. Last year, Audubon scientists discovered that endangered Atlantic puffins spend their winters in this area.
Last August, in just one day, NOAA Fisheries scientists recorded numerous sperm whales and beaked whales, as well as 120 fin whales, 70 pilot whales, 50 humpbacks, 2,500 common dolphins, 100 striped dolphins, 80 bottlenose dolphins, 60 Risso’s dolphins and ocean sunfish. A New England Aquarium scientist told reporters last year, this place is “the Serengeti of the ocean.”
Having grown up in a fishing family in Eastport, I care deeply about sustainable coastal communities and what makes Maine a special place to live and visit. But objections from fishermen to this monument are misguided.
Not only is it one of the most lightly fished parts of our ocean – making it an ideal candidate for a protected area – fishermen even stand to benefit. Science shows similar closed ocean areas have resulted in more abundant fish populations that spill over into surrounding areas, where they can be caught by fishermen.
So far, more than 600,000 people and organizations – including coastal businesses like mine, recreational fishermen, political officials, faith leaders and aquaria – have voiced their support for marine monuments to the Interior and Commerce departments. The public comment period was extended to Aug. 14. Your voice could make a difference.