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Defending The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument

On Mytilus Seamount, a bamboo coral is attached to the black basalt rock formed by a now-extinct undersea volcano.

On Mytilus Seamount, a bamboo coral is attached to the black basalt rock formed by a now-extinct undersea volcano. The yellow animals on the coral are crinoids, or sea lilies, in the same major group of animals as sea stars. The summit of Mytilus Seamount is 8,800 ft below the surface of the ocean.

NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, 2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition Science Team

What's at Stake

The dramatic terrain of these canyons and seamounts forms a unique biologic hotspot, offering food, shelter and nursery habitat to a diverse range of endemic and migratory sea life in an otherwise austere environment. Scientists have found many different species of cold-water corals living here, including species that have been found nowhere else on earth.

Overview

On March 29, 2017, Earthjustice—representing the Center for Biological Diversity and Zack Klyver, Head Naturalist for the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company—along with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Conservation Law Foundation filed a Motion to Intervene in a case brought by the Pacific Legal Foundation. On March 7, 2017, the Foundation brought the case on behalf of several commercial fishing organizations to challenge President Obama's designation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument under the Antiquities Act in September 2016. 

Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument: The protected area, encompassing 4,913 square miles, encompasses three canyons (Oceanographer, Gilbert, or Lydonia) and four seamounts (Bear, Physalia, Mytilus and Retriever).
The Pew Charitable Trusts
The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument: The protected area, encompassing 4,913 square miles, encompasses three canyons (Oceanographer, Gilbert, or Lydonia) and four seamounts (Bear, Physalia, Mytilus and Retriever). View larger map.

Located approximately 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the monument protects a cluster of four extinct undersea volcanoes (known as seamounts) and three undersea canyons, each one deeper than the Grand Canyon. The dramatic terrain of these canyons and seamounts forms a unique biologic hotspot, offering food, shelter and nursery habitat to a diverse range of endemic and migratory sea life in an otherwise austere environment. So far, scientists have found many different species of cold-water corals living here, including species that have been found nowhere else on earth. 

All five plaintiffs represented by the Foundation are commercial fishing industry groups that allege their members' business interests have been or will be harmed by the creation of the Monument. The data do not support these claims and only show small economic impacts to a relatively few fishermen. The industry plaintiffs seek a declaration that the Antiquities Act does not authorize the President to establish ocean monuments and that the Monument is consequently unlawful. They further seek an injunction forbidding the federal government from enforcing any of the proclamation's fishing prohibitions.  

If successful, the industry lawsuit would re-open this area to commercial fishing and other extractive activities such as oil and gas production, exposing the unique underwater land formations and the fragile ecosystems found there—including habitat for threatened sperm and beaked whales and deep-sea corals found nowhere else in the world—to irreversible damage.  

A sperm whale. The inset map illustrates total numbers of whales and dolphins found in the Coral Canyons and Seamounts, from 1963 to 2014. Hot spots for concentrations of whales and dolphins dot the shelf-edge.
Photo by Barry Gutradt / Bar Harbor Whale Watch. Map courtesy of Scott Kraus and Brooke Wikgren / New England Aquarium
A sperm whale. The inset map illustrates total numbers of whales and dolphins found in the Coral Canyons and Seamounts, from 1963 to 2014. Hot spots for concentrations of whales and dolphins dot the shelf-edge. View larger map.

Earthjustice, representing the Center for Biological Diversity and Zack Klyver, in cooperation with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Conservation Law Foundation, will defend the designation, and help prevent any settlement with the Trump Administration that would revoke or undermine the protections provided by the monument. We will argue that the seabed within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone is controlled and managed by the U.S. We will also demonstrate that the monument boundaries were carefully tailored through a lengthy public process to protect the canyons and seamount ecosystems while minimizing the socio-economic impacts to fishermen who use the area.

The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and has been assigned to Judge James E. Boasberg.

Case ID

3402

Attorneys

Case Updates

March 29, 2017 | Legal Document

Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendant-Intervenor Applicants' Motion to Intervene

The Natural Resources Defense Council, Conservation Law Foundation, Center for Biological Diversity, and Mr. R. Zack Klyver (“Applicants”) seek to intervene as defendants in this case to protect their interests in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument (“the Monument”). Pursuant to Local Civil Rule 7(m), counsel for Applicants contacted Plaintiffs’ counsel on March 24 and 28, 2017, to ascertain their position on this motion prior to filing.