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New Atlantic Coast Deep-Sea Memorial will be Largest in United States

A vision for the ocean has become a legacy.

The vision comes from the late Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, who understood the value of protecting the ocean, particularly under-studied areas such as our deep-sea coral habitats found off the Atlantic Coast.  Back in 2005 he said: “We have only recently learned that corals and sponges form reefs in the cold, dark waters of the deep sea. Let’s protect them before we lose them entirely; before we learn the extent of their importance to us and to the ecology of the deep sea.”

Now the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council has unanimously approved the naming of the U.S. Atlantic Coast’s largest protected area as the Frank R. Lautenberg Deep Sea Coral Protection Area.

It represents the first application of new deep-sea authorities under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) as advocated for by Senator Lautenberg, who passed away in 2013 at age 89. Pending approval by the U.S. Department of Commerce this year, the area will protect deep-sea corals and other vulnerable habitats by preventing fishing methods that contact the ocean floor. Deep-sea corals may live for thousands of years and do not require any sunlight, yet they damage easily upon contact with fishing gear.

The proposed Frank R. Lautenberg Deep Sea Coral Protection Area covers an area the size of Virginia in waters offshore of six states. It starts at depths of approximately 1,500 feet and extends to the border of the U.S. jurisdiction. Fishing is still allowed in the area, but fishermen may not use gear that contacts the bottom.

Senator Lautenberg was a champion of enabling the nation’s eight regional fishery management councils to create new areas to protect deep-sea corals from damaging fishing practices. The 2007 reauthorization of the MSA, the primary law governing U.S. marine fisheries, established a research program on deep-sea coral habitat and a provision that informed this decision by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council.

Posted February 16 , 2016

Deep-sea corals in the Wilmington Canyon will be protected in the new Frank R. Lautenberg Deep Sea Coral Protection Area. (Photo: NOAA Fisheries, WHOI)
The region in yellow is scheduled to become the largest marine protected area in the eastern United States. (Map: Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council)