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President Obama Protects America's Ocean Paradise

26 Sep 2014  |   Mark Sheridan

Tags: Clean Water

For the 12th time in his presidency and the third time this year, President Obama is using the Antiquities Act to set aside areas for conservation. This week, he announced an expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. The preserve, about 1,000 miles from Hawaii, consists of three uninhabited islands and dozens of underwater seamounts in remote waters of the Central Pacific Ocean.

In 2009, President George W. Bush established the preserve using the Antiquities Act – the same law first used by President Theodore Roosevelt and by 16 presidents from both parties since 1906. President Bush’s actions protected almost 87,000 square miles. And now, President Obama’s action greatly expands the protected area to more than 490,000 square miles, creating the largest fully protected marine reserve in the world, completely off limits to commercial fishing and resource extraction. To put that in perspective, the monument is bigger than Florida, Texas and California combined!  

The Pacific Remote Islands are rich in ocean life and home to some of the most pristine ocean habitats in the world.  Animals around the islands include 22 species of marine mammals, five species of endangered sea turtles, millions of fish and nesting seabirds, and even newly discovered animals like the Palmyra beaked whale. The protected area also includes deep-sea coral reefs and 33 seamounts, which are hotspots for plant and animal activity. 

Oceans are critical, supporting the plankton that provide half of the oxygen on earth, and playing a key role in regulating the global climate. Unfortunately, less than one percent of oceans are protected as conservation areas, leaving them vulnerable to problems like climate change and overfishing. Climate change is putting major stress on ocean ecosystems, with oceans absorbing approximately one quarter of the carbon dioxide (CO2) we pump into the air. As global CO2 emissions continue to increase, the oceans are becoming dangerously more acidic

Overfishing also threatens many fish, and marine reserves play an important role in providing a safe refuge for vulnerable fish stocks. Studies have shown that marine reserves are an effective way to help depleted fish stocks recover. Given the challenges ocean ecosystems currently face, President Obama’s action to set aside more ocean areas for conservation is especially significant. 

The U.S. is taking the lead on global ocean conservation efforts. Secretary of State John Kerry organized a global summit on ocean conservation issues in June, with many countries pledging to do their part to help protect more than one million square miles of marine areas around the world. The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity has also proposed a target of protecting 10 percent of the world’s ocean by 2020. President Obama’s expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument is a major step in moving toward that goal.

(Photograph found on USFW-Pacific Region flickr)

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