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Designate Norfolk Canyon as a National Marine Sanctuary

This petition had 2,491 supporters

The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center is dedicated to protecting the Norfolk Canyon and its many treasures. The Aquarium will be nominating the Norfolk Canyon area to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries for sanctuary designation. NOAA’s sanctuary nomination process is a public, community-based process by which a collection of interested individuals or groups can identify and recommend special areas of the marine environment for possible designation as a National Marine Sanctuary.

What is the Norfolk Canyon? 
The Norfolk Canyon is located 69 miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and the coast of Virginia. It is the southernmost of the large submarine canyons along the outer continental shelf off the US east coast from Cape Hatteras to Canada. Formed over 10,000 years ago, the 35 mile long canyon now reaches depths over 6,500 feet. Due to its distance from shore, great depth and steep topography, the biology and geology have remained, until recently, largely unknown.

The canyon cuts a path between the shelf and deep ocean that brings upwelling of nutrient rich waters to plankton, squid, and fishes providing for a highly productive feeding area for many marine animals, including billfish, marine mammals, sea turtles and pelagic birds. Not only is Norfolk Canyon a popular recreational fishing destination, it is also home to a diverse and abundant, bottom-dwelling community of tree corals (some over 500 years old), fragile glass sponges, dense patches of anemones, and fish species such as tilefish and cusk. Deep-sea corals and sponges have been used to advance human medicine, including cancer treatments and synthesis of artificial bones.

To the north of Norfolk Canyon, lies the “Billy Mitchell Fleet,” a group of sunken German World War I vessels. These captured vessels were used to demonstrate that aerial attacks could sink ships, ushering in the age of air power and the future of US Naval Aviation.

Just south of the Norfolk Canyon, a  vast methane seep was recently discovered. Home to a large population of mussels and chemosynthetic bacteria, this cold seep provides a unique habitat, which if disturbed, would decimate its population.

Learn more about the Norfolk Canyon and the process to designate this as a National Marine Sanctuary at

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