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Obama Creates World’s Largest Protected Marine Reserve in the Pacific Ocean

Obama Creates World’s Largest Protected Marine Reserve in the Pacific Ocean

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A vibrant giant clam is shown at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Line Islands. (Photo by: AP Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, James Maragos)

A vibrant giant clam is shown at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Line Islands.
(Photo by: AP Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, James Maragos)

President Obama used his legal authority to create the world’s largest fully protected marine reserve in the central Pacific Ocean, following thru on a promise made in June, reports said.

According to an article by Juliet Eilperin, White House correspondent for The Washington Post, this move demonstrated the president’s increased willingness to advance a conservation agenda without the need for congressional approval.

By broadening the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument from almost 87,000 square miles to more than 490,000 square miles, Obama has protected more acres of federal land and sea by executive power than any other president in at least 50 years and makes the area off-limits to commercial fishing.

The proclamation — which Secretary of State John F. Kerry announced during an oceans meeting he convened in New York on 25 September 2014 — will mean added protections for deep-sea coral reefs and other marine ecosystems that administration officials say are among “the most vulnerable” to the negative effects of climate change.

The document signed by Obama noted that the expanded area contains “significant objects of scientific interest that are part of this highly pristine deep sea and open ocean ecosystem with unique biodiversity.”

“We have a responsibility to make sure our kids and their families and the future has the same ocean to serve it in the same way as we have — not to be abused, but to preserve and utilize,” Kerry said at the session, a follow-up to the global ocean conference he held in June.

“And we’re talking about an area of ocean that’s nearly twice the size of Texas, and that will be protected in perpetuity from commercial fishing and other resource-extraction activities, like deep-water mining.”

While the new designation is a scaled-back version of an even more ambitious plan the administration had floated in June, it marks the 12th time Obama will have exercised his power under the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect environmental assets. The decision to continue to allow fishing around roughly half the area’s islands and atolls aims to limit any economic impact on the U.S. fishing interests.

Under the new designation, the administration will expand the fully protected areas from 50 miles offshore from three remote areas — Johnston Atoll, Wake Atoll and Jarvis Island — to 200 miles, the maximum area within the United States’ exclusive economic zone. The existing, 50-mile safeguards around Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll, as well as Howland and Baker islands, which are also part of the existing monuments, will not change.

Obama has protected 297 million acres of federal lands and waters through executive action, surpassing George W. Bush, who safeguarded 211 million acres.

While the islands in question are uninhabited, U.S. tuna operators and some officials in Hawaii and American Samoa have opposed the expansion on the grounds that it could make it more difficult to catch tuna and other species at certain times of year. Fish caught in the area around all seven atolls and islands account for up to 4 percent of the annual U.S. tuna catch in the western and central Pacific, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Sean Martin, president of the Hawaii Longline Association who organized a bus to bring in about 100 fishermen to a public meeting on the proposal in Honolulu last month, said the operators of 145 boats that fish in the region want “the opportunity to go where the fish are, hopefully.”

And Claire Poumele, director of the American Samoa Port Authority, said she was concerned about the $600 million worth of fish her territory processes each year: “It definitely could have an impact,” Poumele said.

But scientists and conservationists who have lobbied for the bigger monument argue that these vessels can catch tuna outside the protected zone and that it provides shelter not only for 130 underwater mountains that serve as hot spots for biodiversity but for nearly two dozen species of marine mammals, five types of threatened sea turtles, and a variety of sharks and other predatory fish species.

Referring to the three adjacent areas that will now have more restricted activities, the presidential proclamation states, “These adjacent areas hold a large number of undersea mountains (‘seamounts’) that may provide habitat for colonies of deepwater corals many thousands of years old,” adding that their “pelagic environment provides habitat and forage for tunas, turtles, manta rays, sharks, cetaceans and seabirds that have evolved with a foraging technique that depends on large marine predators.”

“If you put aside the emotion and put aside the rhetoric on both sides, less than 3 percent of the Pacific is in under effective protection,” University of Hawaii professor Robert H. Richmond said.

Marine Conservation Institute chief scientist Elliott Norse, who has been conducting underwater research since 1969, said “the seas have been emptied,” adding the point of the Antiquities Act is “about having places in our realm where we don’t kill off the wildlife.”

Matt Rand, who leads the Pew Charitable Trust’s Global Ocean Legacy project, said that because more than half-a-dozen other nations are considering creating new protected areas in the Pacific, “This could be the wave that ultimately propels these marine reserves to become reality.” Taken together with the U.S. announcement, these areas could encompass more than 2.3 million square miles of sea.

(Story courtesy of The Washington Post. Read original source.)

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