A Deeper Connection to the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts

The precious coral canyons and underwater mountains off the east coast of the United States deserve protection.

The following is a transcript of the video.

LISA SUATONI, senior scientist, Oceans program, NRDC: When we think of the ocean floor, most of us imagine miles of just flat plains.

But the ocean floor of the east coast of the United States is stunningly dramatic. It's carved with canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon and, beyond those, enormous extinct volcanoes.

To protect this unique area, President Obama made almost 5,000 square miles of it a national monument, making it the first marine monument in the U.S. waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

When you're on the surface of the water steaming out there, you know you've reached the monument area without even looking at a chart, because the waters are bubbling with animals. Scientists describe this monument as a generator of abundant marine life for the larger surrounding area.

Very few people get to actually see our ocean depths for themselves. I had to gather my courage to go down to 1,500 feet in the submersible the first time I did it. But once I descended to the deep sea, it changed my relationship to this planet.

You know, this is the first and only place in the Atlantic where marine mammals can swim at low risk of getting entangled in some kind of fishing gear. Obama closed it to industrial fishing.

And you have these amazing deep divers of the ocean out there, like sperm whales, who can submerge for up to two hours at a time while they hunt for food.

But these canyons and seamounts lie on the edge of our continent, but they're also the beginning of the deep sea, which is the dominant ecosystem on earth.

Our planet has a long and ancient history. As you descend into the ocean into this truly alien world, it feels like being in a time machine seeing geological epics go by.

Scientists started doing ecological research in this area, and it became immediately apparent—there were many animals here we didn't have names for.

There are corals here that are 4,000 years old. Even though they're perfectly adapted for their high-pressure, harsh, lightless home, these animals are fragile. They have very long recovery times if they're disturbed. They live in one of the most pristine habitats in the Atlantic Ocean. Right now, it's protected from seabed mining, oil and gas drilling, and industrial fishing, but opening it back up would be incredibly destructive.

The northwestern Atlantic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet. As the ocean changes, we need to protect habitats like this to be sources of biodiversity.

Being at the steps taught me that we are really interlopers into a world that isn't only ours. At first I thought being at the bottom of the sea was like being on a different planet, but then I realized, Wait a minute, no. This is earth.

The truth is, 70 percent of our planet is ocean, so we land dwellers are really the minority, and honestly, it feels wrong as visitors to demand to use every inch of this planet for our sole benefit.

All we're asking is this, that we set aside these very precious and delicate areas so that they can exist on earth along with us in perpetuity.

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