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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Protect N.Y.’s own grand canyon

Hidden, natural treasures are everywhere.  Even, as we see here, within miles of urban centers.

Protecting them, though, will not be easy.  Whether from normal decay, man's waste littering their beauty or possible exploration of their shelves, there's many threats to our natural capital.

Preserving our biodiversity is paramount.  We've lost much of it already to over development and a lack of foresight.  Now, though, we have no excuses for failing to act and take aggressive steps to insure the survival of these natural jewels that anchor our quality of life and well being.

Protect N.Y.’s own grand canyon


by John Calvelli

The Grand Canyon is one of the extraordinary and amazing natural jewels found in America, and indeed in the world. It is believed that no European Americans even saw the canyon until the early 1800s, and it was not fully explored until John Wesley Powell’s expedition down the Colorado River in 1869. It wasn’t until 1919 that the Grand Canyon became a national park.




Today, Americans take it for granted that the splendor of the Grand Canyon is protected for future generations. But you would likely be surprised if I told you that a canyon of similar size, teeming with biodiversity but unprotected from key threats such as oil, gas, and mineral exploration and extraction, is sitting right here in New York’s backyard, a few hours’ ride from the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.



That’s because it is underwater.


The Hudson Canyon is a vast and mostly unexplored chasm that was carved by the Hudson River during the last Ice Age. The canyon is a part of the underwater ecological splendor of the New York seascape, for which most New Yorkers are only beginning to have an appreciation.



Located just 100 miles southeast of New York City, the Hudson Canyon is the East Coast’s largest submarine canyon and one of the largest in the world. It is home to deep sea cold-water corals that provide food and shelter for many other species, including migratory whales, sharks, sea turtles, seabirds, crabs, tunas and swordfish
.

Scientists are still only beginning to understand the complexity and richness of the ecology of offshore underwater canyons. But that does not make them any less crucial to threatened wildlife, or make them any less incredible.

Not too long ago we were dumping trash directly into the ocean. I recall how as a young legislative staffer working with then-Assemblyman Eliot Engel, we raised awareness of the “syringe tide” of washed up hospital waste that back then caused hundreds of beach closures and an estimated $1 billion in lost revenue to the local tourism industry.



Thankfully, those dumping practices have stopped and more recently, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council has proactively protected fragile gardens of coldwater corals, sponges and anemones from damaging fishing gear. These species are critical for maintaining a thriving marine ecosystem.



However, just like the Grand Canyon in the 19th century, which fell under threat from mining, drilling and railroad interests before it was protected, the Hudson Canyon faces an uncertain future. It has known deposits of oil and methane gas and is threatened by human activity, including fossil fuel and mineral exploration and extraction.



There is a long history of fossil fuel exploration off the Atlantic coast. At least 50 methane seeps, usually a sign of significant deposits below, have been found in Hudson Canyon. There are currently no operational wells, but the federal government and the petroleum industry continue to show interest in exploring potential reserves in the region.



The slow-growing canyon ecosystems take hundreds or even thousands of years to form but can be irreversibly wiped out by destructive mining practices or unintentional spills.
(NOAA Ocean Explorer)

It’s time to address this threat. Last month, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium led a diverse coalition of aquariums, non-profit organizations, local fishing groups, scientists and other stakeholders in submitting a proposal to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to designate the Hudson Canyon a National Marine Sanctuary.

Creating such a sanctuary in these waters would preclude oil, gas and mineral exploration and extraction, helping to maintain fish and wildlife populations and ensure a future for the fisheries and tourism industries that depend on healthy ocean ecosystems.



The 20 million people who reside in and around New York City, a metropolis surrounded by water on all sides, are mostly unaware that the waters surrounding them serve as a feeding ground, nursery and migratory corridor for hundreds of species of aquatic wildlife, including whales, sharks and sea turtles — some of which are threatened or endangered.

If any place is worthy of protection, it is our very own underwater Grand Canyon.

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