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The current president's executive actions extend offshore today. President Obama is designating a new national monument, a protected part of ocean off the New England coast. This unilateral move allows him to protect the environment without awaiting congressional approval. Here's NPR's Tovia Smith.
TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: It's been called an underwater Yellowstone and a deep sea Serengeti. It's not the same kind of tourist destination, but hidden beneath the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Cod is a submerged wonderland of lush forests, canyons deeper than the Grand Canyon, vivid corals and extinct volcanoes all teeming with wildlife, like endangered sperm whales, sea turtles and exotic species found nowhere else.
BRAD SEWELL: It is like a Dr. Seussian (ph) world down there.
SMITH: That's environmental advocate Brad Sewell from the Natural Resources Defense Council.
SEWELL: It is home to sort of bizarre, deep-sea creatures like the whip-lash squid and the pom-pom anemone and sublimely beautiful forests of purple and pink bubblegum corals.
SMITH: Sewell says the underwater wilderness called the New-England Coral Canyons and Seamounts is unexploited by commercial fishing, mining or drilling. And today's move, he says, will keep it that way.
SEWELL: We're phenomenally excited. I mean, it's really - it's unbelievable. And it's going to be increasingly important as climate change and its impacts increase. We need to have these protected reservoirs of resilience.
SMITH: The area, almost the size of Connecticut, is the first marine monument in the Atlantic. Obama recently expanded protections in the Pacific Ocean using the same 1906 Antiquities Act that allows him to act unilaterally. But opponents are already challenging the move, calling it an illegal use of presidential authority.
BOB VANASSE: We don't normally create laws in this country by the stroke of an imperial pen.
SMITH: Bob Vanasse is a spokesman for the National Coalition of Fishing Communities.
VANASSE: This is not only an end run around Congress. It's an end run around the entire system that Congress created to protect these ocean resources.
SMITH: Vanasse says the move will seriously hurt the fishing industry.
VANASSE: We anticipate the offshore lobster industry will be affected to the tune of about $10 million per year. On top of that, one of the most affected industries is going to be the Atlantic red crab industry. It is going to be very significantly impacted.
SMITH: Senior administration officials say to mitigate the financial harm, they're designating a smaller area than planned, and they're giving lobster and red crab fisheries a seven-year grace period before they have to comply. Ultimately, they say protecting that ecosystem will help boost the fish stock in surrounding waters. And they note, the same presidential authority has been invoked more than a hundred times by some 16 presidents to protect national treasures like the Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty. Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.
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