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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Biden proposes a new marine sanctuary off the Northeastern US

In an undated image provided by NOAA, the Hudson Canyon, circled by the dotted line. Hudson Canyon, a vast gorge in the Atlantic Ocean that is home to endangered whales, sharks, sea turtles, would become a national marine sanctuary under a proposal made by the Biden administration on Wednesday, June 8, 2022.

By Lisa Friedman

Hudson Canyon, a vast gorge in the Atlantic Ocean that is home to endangered whales, sharks and sea turtles, would become a national marine sanctuary under a proposal made by the Biden administration earlier this week.

Located about 100 miles southeast of the Statue of Liberty, Hudson Canyon would be off-limits to oil and gas drilling in order to protect marine life and cold-water coral as well as several shipwrecks.

Details, including the boundaries of the proposed sanctuary and prohibited activities beyond drilling, have yet to be announced. The proposal will undergo a public comment period through Aug. 8 before it is finalized.

“A sanctuary near one of the most densely populated areas of the Northeast U.S. would connect diverse communities across the region to the ocean and the canyon in new and different ways,” Richard W. Spinrad, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in a statement. He said the sanctuary would leave “a lasting legacy for future generations.”

Hudson Canyon would be the first national marine sanctuary off New York and New Jersey, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium, which nominated the area for protection in 2016.

Hudson Canyon is partially located within the New York Bight, an area where a wind farm is planned. The designation is not expected to interfere with offshore wind turbines, but a spokesperson for NOAA said the administration would work with states to “fully understand the impacts to any offshore wind lease areas in the New York Bight and Hudson Canyon area.”

The National Ocean Industries Association, which represents oil and gas as well as offshore wind developers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Conservationists described Hudson Canyon as a fragile and complex marine ecosystem that should be permanently free from oil, gas, and mineral extraction. Establishing a marine sanctuary would also allow Hudson Canyon to serve as a place for NOAA to monitor the impacts of climate change on submarine canyons, which are vulnerable to ocean acidification and oxygen depletion.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to support marine conservation and deepen the connection of the more than 28 million residents in New York and New Jersey to our treasured ocean resources,” John Calvelli, executive vice president of the Wildlife Conservation Society, said in a statement.

The proposed designation comes as President Joe Biden’s climate and conservation agenda is stagnating in Congress. As a result, the administration has relied on executive authority to enact its goals.

Comparable in depth to the Grand Canyon, Hudson Canyon was created during the last ice age, more than 10,000 years ago. It runs about 400 nautical miles in length and reaches depths of 10,500 feet.

In addition to the 200 species of fish and 17 kinds of marine mammals that reside there, migrating birds and whales stop off at Hudson Canyon to feed. Among the ships that lie below the surface are freighters dating back to the mid-19th century and U.S. military radar platforms.

The administration also announced a plan to phase out single-use plastics in national parks and on public lands by 2032. In 2011, the Obama administration encouraged national parks to stop selling single-use plastics but that policy was reversed by the Trump administration.

In a secretarial order Wednesday, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland also directed department staff to find biodegradable or compostable alternatives for such products.

“The Interior Department has an obligation to play a leading role in reducing the impact of plastic waste on our ecosystems and our climate,” Haaland said in a statement.

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