The Bush administration has outlined plans for a “blue legacy” that would use Presidential authority to establish new national monuments, along the lines of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. This is something Deep-Sea News reported on two years ago as a case of “sanctuary envy” not to be outdone, but due to new developments, the story has caught the attention of National Public Radio and The Intersection. Five new national marine monuments are being proposed (see map above, and story at NPR). The question I have is this: why would we establish these huge new monuments in the Western Pacific Ocean before we establish those close to home, here in the Gulf of Mexico and the South Atlantic Bight?
The Gulf of Mexico gets a bad rap for being a “steel archipelago” of oil exploration, but the fact is, GoMx harbors the healthiest coral reef in the West Atlantic at Flower Garden Banks; the deepest coral reef in the West Atlantic at Pulley Ridge; the breeding grounds for endangered sea turtles (like Kemps Ridley) and bluefin tuna; pelagic habitat for sperm whales, manta rays, whale sharks, and sargassum communities; miles of pristine beaches on North and South Padre Island; as well as thriving deep-sea coral communities recently discovered in Mississippi Canyon and Viosca Knoll.
Furthermore, GoMx is the only region willing to help supply the American demand for oil, and to do it responsibly. The Minerals Management Service is a proactive partner in environmental research primarily responsible for designating sensitive lease blocks off limits to development. “Why would they do that?”, you ask. Because no company paying millions of dollars for exploration rights wants to be surprised to find deep-coral communities in their lease block. It’s better to know beforehand, and to limit activities at these sites. So, MMS puts a good deal of money into that determination.
Although its a nice idea to protect the deepest spot on Earth at the Challenger Deep, shouldn’t we be looking to the homefront first? I support the President’s Big Ocean Plan, but please, let’s start in our own backyard, the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic Bight.