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Obama Vows to Protect Central Pacific Waters

Obama Vows to Protect Central Pacific Waters

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This June 12, 2014 file photo shows President Barack Obama speaking in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Vowing to protect fragile marine life, President Barack Obama moved to create the world’s largest ocean preserve by expanding a national monument his predecessor created in waters thousands of miles away from the American mainland. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File/Associated Press)

This June 12, 2014 file photo shows President Barack Obama speaking in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. Vowing to protect fragile marine life, President Barack Obama moved to create the world’s largest ocean preserve by expanding a national monument his predecessor created in waters thousands of miles away from the American mainland. (Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File/Associated Press)

US president Barack Obama has vowed to use his executive powers to protect US waters in the central Pacific Ocean and draw up a national strategy to combat illegal fishing.

This announcement, reported by Agence France Press and published in Australia Network News, was the highlight of a two-day conference recently held at the United States State Department and attended by leaders from more than 80 countries.

The gathering united scientists and industry experts aiming to draw up an action plan to cleanup the world’s oceans.

The New York Times also picked up the story and said that “in an effort to protect diverse habitats of coral reefs, whales, dolphins, sharks, sea turtles and numerous fish species from commercial fishing and other activities, President Obama announced Tuesday that he intended to use his executive authority to create the world’s largest marine protected area in the south-central Pacific Ocean.”

“We all know how fragile our planet can be,” Mr. Obama said.

“Rising levels of carbon dioxide are causing our oceans to acidify. Pollution endangers marine life. Overfishing threatens whole species as well as the people who depend on them for food and their livelihoods,” he said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, who hosted the conference, is also spearheading the oceans initiative and plans to make environmental protection a hallmark of his tenure. In his keynote, Mr. Kerry called for the creation of a global ocean strategy.

“Most people think the ocean is larger than life, an endless resource impossible to destroy. But people underestimate the enormous damage that we as humans are inflicting on the ocean every day,” Mr. Kerry said. “We run the risk of fundamentally breaking entire ecosystems.”

In a video address, Mr. Obama said he had directed the US government to “build a national strategy to combat black-market fishing”.

The US president is also set to announce plans to declare a vast area of the central Pacific Ocean off-limits to commercial fishing or energy exploitation, the Washington Post has reported.

The proposal would expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine national monument from 87,000 square miles (225,329 square kilometers) to around 782,000 square miles (over 2,000,000 square kilometers) and create the world’s largest marine sanctuary.

The Pacific Remote Islands Area is controlled by the US and consists of seven scattered islands, atolls and reefs that lie between Hawaii and American Samoa.

Essentially uninhabited, the waters that surround these remote islands are home to a wide range of species including corals, seabirds, sharks and vegetation not found anywhere else in the world.

In 2009, President Bush declared the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, giving the islands the same level of protection as statues or cultural sites.

Now President Obama has signaled that he will extend the area that will be off limits to fishing and mineral exploitation to the limit of US economic control – some 200 nautical miles around the islands.

Mr. Obama won support from Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, an avid diver, who pledged his foundation would pump another $7 million over the next two years into projects to help the oceans.

“I’ve witnessed environmental devastation first-hand,” DiCaprio told the conference, recalling two dives he made some 18 years apart on the Coral Reef in Australia.

“What once had looked like an endless underwater utopia is now riddled with bleached coral reefs and massive dead zones.”

Environmentalists also welcomed Mr. Obama’s plans as “a historic step forward in the fight against seafood fraud and illegal fishing worldwide”.

(Sources: AFP / Washington Post / Australia Network News / BBC News)

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