This blog originally ran on the the Environment Rhode Island Research & Policy Center site.

By Kelsey Lamp, Oceans Associate with Environment Rhode Island, klamp@environmentamerica.org

In the lifespan of the black coral, which can live for 500 years or more, two years is nothing. Yet, for the black coral that live 150 miles to the Southeast of Cape Cod, these last two years have been monumental--that is, they have marked the first years in which the black coral have enjoyed full protections from then-President Obama’s designation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.

This Saturday, we will celebrate the second birthday of the Monument, the only fully protected marine habitat in the U.S. Atlantic. It is a spectacular place. Within the boundaries of the Monument, three underwater canyons and four seamounts support a diverse and unique ecosystem. Whales and dolphins feast on the jellyfish and fish darting through the water column. More than a mile underwater, over 100 species of deep sea coral (including the black coral) contend with sea stars, sea spiders, octopuses and squid that swim and scurry along the ocean floor.

Following its designation in 2016, the Monument provided these amazing habitats with protection from all forms of commercial exploitation. By protecting complete ocean ecosystems, from the ocean floor to the waves atop the water, we provide marine life with a place to survive, thrive and evolve.

The Canyons & Seamounts’ status as a Monument is all the more important as we come to grips with the true state of our oceans. Reports this summer have highlighted the fact that ocean wilderness is increasingly rare--and that means it’s time for us to preserve critical habitats in our oceans before it’s too late. As our oceans change with the climate and adapt to the other stress humans are placing on them, protecting these undisturbed ecosystems will be essential to the marine species, large and small, which we are working to save from extinction.

Built on New England’s environmental legacy, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument represents the very best protections we can give to our oceans and the marine life that call them home. And that’s why we’ve been fighting here at Environment Rhode Island to protect the Monument from rollbacks threatened by the Trump administration.

We hope the threats are short-lived, and that our elected leaders from all parties realize the value of protecting ocean ecosystems. Until then, we’ll celebrate this birthday by working to ensure that the Monument is around, and protected, for many more birthdays to come.