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.
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.
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.
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.
In April, President Trump issued the “America First Offshore Energy Executive Order,” directing the Department of Commerce to review the designations and expansions of 11 national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments, including the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument .