The study comes as President Barack Obama on Thursday established the first national marine monument in the Atlantic, which aims to protect almost 5,000 square miles off the southern edge of a region called Georges Bank, along the continental shelf of New England. The area is home to “many species of deep-sea coral, sharks, sea turtles, seabirds and deep-diving marine mammals, such as beaked whales and sperm whales,” the Washington Post explains, as well as underwater canyons and mountains.
The White House said making the area a monument would establish a ban on commercial fishing, mining, and drilling, but not recreational fishing. The lobster and red crab industries would also be allowed to continue operating for seven years.
Environmental groups welcomed the news, with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) tweeting, “Protecting these ecosystems is essential for keeping our oceans healthy & curbing climate change.”
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But as Douglas McCauley, another co-author of Wednesday’s study, explained to the Guardian, small protected marine parks won’t stop the devastation of overfishing. The monuments need to be much larger—like the Papahānaumokuākea sanctuary in Hawaii that Obama expanded in August, which now covers just over 582,578 square miles, making it the world’s largest—to have an impact.
Co-author Noel Heim, also at Stanford, boiled down the study’s main takeaway: “We see this over and over again. Humans enter into a new ecosystem, and the largest animals are killed off first. Marine systems have been spared up to now, because until relatively recently, humans were restricted to coastal areas and didn’t have the technology to fish in the deep ocean on an industrial scale.”
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