President Obama designated the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument on September 15, 2016 under the Antiquities Act of 1906 which allows Presidents to protect national treasures. A first of its kind in the Atlantic Ocean, the new monument includes three submarine canyons; Oceanographer Canyon, Gilbert Canyon, and Lydonia Canyon and four seamounts; Bear Seamount, Physalia Seamount, Mytilus Seamount, and the Retriever Seamount.
The scenery of this new National Monument would truly be spectacular and likely rival the Grand Canyon in topographic drama and tourist appeal if it were not at the bottom of the sea. The seamounts are remnants of an ancient hot spot below the Earth’s crust that extruded towering, billowing volcanoes. As the North American tectonic plate slowly moved West over millions of years the hot spot created new subsea mountains in the crust creating a chain of seamount much the same way as the Hawaiian Islands formed.
In the Atlantic the seamounts no longer reach the water surface, eroded by currents over the years, creating flat-topped mountains that still tower above the seabed but lie 1000+ meter below the ocean surface. Their mere presence creates massive up-welling of currents, bringing nutrients to the surface from the deep creating havens for life in the middle of the ocean.
The canyons of the National Monument lie ~120 miles Southeast of Martha’s Vineyard, MA and carve their way through the continental shelf. They are remnants of a low sea level era when the paleo shoreline extended up to 100 miles further than what we know now. With their steep and rocky walls of the canyons create habitat for deep sea coral, sponges, and hunting grounds for sperm whales. At more than 2,000 meters deep and less than 5 miles wide, the Oceanographer Canyon exceeds the depth of the Grand Canyon.
In 2013 NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer explored the canyons and seamounts to investigate the deep-sea habitat using its deep water ROV Deep Discoverer and brought back incredible images of life at the bottom of the sea. The area is described as an “underwater Yellowstone” because of it’s unique geologic features, its rare and unusual sea creatures, and rich biodiversity. “Today’s designation will help protect the unique geology and biodiversity of these important underwater features and wildlife species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world,” said Secretary Jewell.