Baltimore Canyon

A Major Submarine Canyon with Unprecedented Ecological Value

Update: A note from John Racanelli, CEO.


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The Baltimore Canyon, a major submarine canyon with unprecedented ecological value situated less than 70 miles off of Maryland’s coast, is eligible for protective designation as a National Marine Sanctuary. If designated, it would become our nation's first Urban National Marine Sanctuary, creating opportunities for local students to engage with the deep seas via high-tech connections between Baltimore’s educational and scientific communities and researchers exploring the Canyon.

Coral

The Deep Sea: Humankind’s Next Frontier

Submarine canyons are the next great American frontier, possessing untapped potential for exploration and research. The Baltimore Canyon is a 28-mile-long, 5-mile-wide major submarine canyon situated less than 70 miles off the coast of Maryland, along the edge of the Mid-Atlantic continental shelf. Within its depths, an entire ecosystem thrives based upon fragile corals and biological phenomena rarely seen anywhere in the world.

Formed by an ancient river millions of years ago, the Baltimore Canyon is unprecedented in its ecological value. With so much to be learned, this fascinating ecosystem is both a natural classroom and living laboratory. As such, it deserves protective designation so that it will remain intact, providing important opportunities to connect urban youth and concerned citizens to this important frontier. National Marine Sanctuary designation, conferred by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), would provide such protection.

America’s First Urban National Marine Sanctuary

The proximity of the Baltimore Canyon to Baltimore City, an up-and-coming tech hub, presents a unique opportunity to connect an urban population to a deep-sea ecological treasure via cutting edge technology. A virtual, high-tech pipeline could carry discoveries from researchers in the Canyon back to scientists, students and institutions for compilation and translation, sparking additional tech investments in Baltimore, providing urban students with STEM career pathways, and accelerating public access to the findings uncovered within this mysterious, dark world.

An Economic Imperative

Measures put in place to protect vanishing habitats are often at odds with commercial necessity and economic progress. In this case, however, what is good for the Baltimore Canyon is good for all of us. Protection of the Baltimore Canyon and surrounding waters does not call for the exclusion of the Canyon from fishing or recreational use. In fact, the existing network of National Marine Sanctuaries support $4 billion in marine related economies annually and are exceptional sites for both commercial and recreational fishing.

A Social Imperative

Proximity to the Baltimore Canyon and Baltimore’s wealth of scientific and educational institutions, supported by the educational and interpretative capabilities of the National Aquarium – which hosts over 1.3 million visitors and educates over 150,000 youth annually – could create valuable opportunities for Aquarium guests to better appreciate the treasures of the Canyon and engage students who otherwise might not have access to STEM careers in a city where they are needed, encouraging investment in Baltimore and our deep seas.

Please direct questions or commentary to BaltimoreCanyon@aqua.org.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a National Marine Sanctuary?

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, marine sanctuaries are many things to many people. They are network of underwater parks, submarine canyons, and marine monuments encompassing more than 600,000 square miles of American marine and Great Lakes waters from Washington state to the Florida Keys, and from Lake Huron to American Samoa.

The network includes a system of 13 national marine sanctuaries and Papahānaumokuākea and Rose Atoll marine national monuments.

Does protective status impact how people can use and enjoy the waters in and around the Canyon?

In short, no. Preservation of most National Marine Sanctuaries ensures not only that the area is protected for ecological reasons, but also for continued appropriate recreational and commercial use.

What is the Baltimore Canyon’s ecological significance?

Formed by an ancient river millions of years ago, the Baltimore Canyon is dense with biologically important nutrients and chemicals that support a robust food web of bacteria, corals, mussels, sponges, anemones, crabs, lobsters and fish.

The Canyon’s delicate ecosystem is based upon the presence of Methane cold seeps, a biological phenomenon not usually seen in this region which are to life underwater as sunshine is to life on land, creating a wealth of marine organisms which nourish and support a rich, undisturbed food chain. They develop within the geological structure of the Canyon itself and can disappear altogether if the Canyon is damaged. The Baltimore Canyon is also home to fragile slow-growing corals not typically found in the Mid-Atlantic which are the physical basis of the food web and, if damaged, might never regrow. The Canyon supports migratory species as diverse as tunas, sharks, billfish, marine mammals, sea turtles and seabirds. In fact, over 125 species of fish have been discovered in the Baltimore Canyon so far.

What is the status of the National Aquarium’s request to NOAA to designate the Baltimore Canyon as our nation’s first Urban National Marine Sanctuary?

The request was submitted to NOAA on December 2, 2016. A December 16 op-ed piece. by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli gives an update on the submission’s status.