Not too far from New York City lies an undersea wonder. Known as the Hudson Canyon, it’s located 100 miles off the coast of New York and New Jersey but a world away from the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple.
The Hudson Canyon is America’s largest underwater canyon in the Atlantic Ocean, and it could soon earn a more significant title: the U.S.’s next national marine sanctuary.
“The canyon itself is about seven and a half miles wide and can reach depths of two and a half miles deep, so as you can imagine, there's a variety of different habitats that support very different and an abundance of marine life in the area,” said LeAnn Hogan, the regional coordinator for the NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “It is what we call truly an ecological hotspot.”
LX News Storyteller Ngozi Ekeledo sat down with Hogan to discuss the importance of marine sanctuaries, and why the Hudson Canyon is such a valuable area.
What exactly is a national marine sanctuary?
Well, think of it like any other protected landmark, such as a national park or a major monument.
Currently there are only 15 national marine sanctuaries and two marine national monuments in the United States, and as an “underwater national park,” the Hudson Canyon would join some pretty major marine company — sanctuaries in storied spots like the Florida Keys and Hawaii.
“There are no other sanctuaries in this area, so I think that's a unique quality,” Hogan said. “And just the environment itself and the unique marine life and the deep water species that you find, and the deep water corals just makes this place really, really special.”
President Biden has backed this Hudson Canyon proposal, and recently he announced his plans to help with the designation as part of his administration’s commitment to the environment — which includes a new Ocean Climate Action plan.
So how does a marine treasure trove like the Hudson Canyon actually become a nationally-recognized marine sanctuary?
Well, it can be a lengthy process.
The Hudson Canyon was nominated by the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium for this special designation in 2016, and it involves a multi-step process – which includes a five-year evaluation by the NOAA, and then a more public element: actually hearing from voices like yours and mine.
“We right now are in the first phase where we're collecting input from the public on a whole range of topics – what the boundaries of the area might be, what measures might be included in the designation – and we take that input from the public,” Hogan said, and public comments are open until the beginning of August.
“It is part of the federal action, and the public input is so essential to this part and every step of the way,” Hogan said.
So why are marine sanctuaries so important?
There are a variety of reasons, with one being this: They are an important economic resource in the communities that surround them.
“You start to bring in connections to people, like fishermen and whale watching, and we in the sanctuary program support sustainable use because that is economically important to so many coastal communities,” Hogan said.
These marine sanctuaries are also crucial when it comes to learning about our environment.
“We feel that the Hudson Canyon area could serve as an environmental bellwether,” Hogan said. “It could serve as an area where we do increased monitoring and increased research so that we can gauge the impacts of climate change in this area.”
Think about Hurricane Ida last summer or even Hurricane Sandy in 2012. As climate change gets worse, so does the threat of these natural disasters, so having the right tools to study our climate is not only crucial, it can save lives.
“With a sanctuary designation, we bring federal resources to the monitoring and research of the area. The climate is always changing – and especially in this dynamic area,” Hogan said. “And so if it is designated as a sanctuary, the resources that we would bring for more research and monitoring would be really important.”
And if the Hudson Canyon does become America’s next national marine sanctuary, it might help shape our communities’ future.
“We really value the connection that we can make to young people and really helping the public see how important these places are,” Hogan said, “and their desire to protect these places, to conserve these places, and really make sure that these places are there for their children.”