The Biden administration has announced plans to designate Hudson Canyon—the deepest U.S. submarine canyon in the Atlantic Ocean, located off the coast of New York and New Jersey—as a national marine sanctuary.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, said its plans to designate the site as a sanctuary would provide special federal protection to “help conserve the area’s rich marine wildlife and habitats, promote sustainable economic activities, and create new opportunities for scientific research, ocean education, and recreation.”
Hudson Canyon, which is located about 100 miles off the East Coast, is up to 2.5 miles deep and 7.5 miles wide, and runs 350 miles through the edge of the continental shelf.
The region “provides habitat for a range of protected and sensitive species, including sperm whales, sea turtles and deep-sea corals,” the NOAA said in a statement.
According to the White House, the canyon “boasts deep-sea, cold-water coral communities, and contains various shipwrecks, including freighters and United States military radar platforms, dating back to the mid-19th Century.”
The potential sanctuary designation stems from a nomination submitted by the Wildlife Conservation Society in November 2016, which said the area provides a wide range of benefits to residents of New York and New Jersey, such as clean air, fresh water, recreation, and food.
The NOAA is seeking public comments on the matters related to Hudson Canyon’s future management, including the potential sanctuary boundaries and information on the indigenous and tribal heritage of the area.
Public commentary can be submitted via the Federal eRulemaking Portal, www.regulations.gov, until Aug. 8. The docket number is NOAA-NOS-2022-0053. The NOAA said it will also host public meetings where members of the public can share oral comments.
The marine sanctuary designation for Hudson Canyon is part of a series of steps the Biden administration is taking in efforts to conserve the ocean and address U.N.-led modeling that predicts catastrophic climate change, coming after President Joe Biden proclaimed June to be National Ocean Month in recognition of World Ocean Day on June 8.
Part of the Biden administration’s climate change actions have been the authorization of offshore wind farms in the seas surrounding Hudson Canyon, which environmental groups have raised critical concerns over (pdf) because of their overlapping with critical habitat for the North Atlantic right whale—one of the planet’s most endangered species.
The Biden administration is set to announce “the rapid deployment and construction of offshore wind farms” later in June, the White House indicated.
Phasing Out Single-Use Plastics in Public Lands
Another initiative includes phasing out the sale of single-use plastic products in public lands, which includes 423 national parks.
Specifically, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland issued Secretary’s Order 3407 (pdf) which includes “schedules and targets to make annual progress toward reducing the procurement, sale, and distribution of single-use plastic products from current levels with a goal of phasing out single-use plastic products by 2032.”
The order is part of the implementation of Biden’s Executive Order 14057, which requires federal agencies to reduce waste and support markets for recycled products.
The order also directs the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to identify better alternatives to single-use plastic products, such as compostable or biodegradable materials, to reduce plastic waste in the ocean.
According to the DOI, at least 14 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean every year.
“Marine species ingest or are entangled by plastic debris, which causes severe injuries and death, and plastic pollution threatens food safety and quality, human health, coastal tourism, and contributes to climate change,” the department said in a statement.
First ‘Ocean Climate Action Plan’
Among multiple other initiatives the Biden administration is taking to conserve the ocean are efforts “to create America’s first-ever Ocean Climate Action Plan and to center environmental justice in ocean science and technology activities and investments,” the White House announced.
The White House said the administration will develop and implement “a first-ever, whole-of-government Ocean Climate Action Plan,” which it says will “guide significant ocean-based climate mitigation and adaptation actions, including green shipping, ocean-based renewable energy, blue carbon, and other ocean-related solutions.”
The Ocean Policy Committee, first established by executive order in 2018 under the Trump administration and codified into law by the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, will work with the White House Climate Policy Office on the plan.
The same committee will also develop a “National Sustainable Ocean Plan,” which the White House says “will help guide sustainable economic development of U.S. ocean and coastal waters.”
Melanie Sun contributed to this report.