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Obama Designates Massive Pacific Ocean Preserve

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A marine area nearly four times the size of California and home to more than 7,000 marine species was protected today by presidential proclamation.

monk seal
Photo credit: Mark Sullivan

President Barack Obama’s executive order will more than quadruple the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, creating the world’s largest protected marine habitat, the White House announced on Thursday.

The official announcement coincides with the president’s visit to Midway Atoll, located within the monument, next week.

With the designation, the monument, originally established by President George W. Bush in 2006, balloons from 139,797 square miles to 582,578 square miles.

monument expansion
Graphic courtesy: Pew Research Center

Support And Opposition

Environmentalists, some legislators, and scientists applauded the designation.

U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who formally proposed the PMNM expansion in a letter to the president in June, was among ardent supporters.

“Expanding Papahānaumokuākea will replenish stocks of ‘ahi, promote biodiversity, fight climate change, and give a greater voice to Native Hawaiians in managing this resource,” said Senator Schatz. “To create continued success, we will need to follow through with management, research, educational opportunities, and enforcement..”

But the designation was also opposed by some local leaders, particularly those representing the interests of commercial fishermen. The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WPRF), former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), former Hawaii governors George Ariyoshi and Ben Cayetano, and some state legislators stood against the action.

Now that the proclamation has been made, the WPRF has called for a “transparent analysis of proposed marine monument expansion.” The Council in a resolution asked the U.S. government for a “public, transparent, deliberative, documented and science-based process” to address the proposed commercial fishery prohibition, which could affect the livelihoods of anglers in the region.

The Council’s resolution also requests that the U.S. government address the resources and tools needed to effectively manage and administer an expanded monument and to specify the technical, scientific, and socioeconomic costs and benefits from monument expansion on marine resources, residents of Hawaii, and the nation.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) will be designated a co-trustee of the monument.

Lush Monument For Obama’s Legacy

The expansion builds Obama’s legacy as perhaps the most environmentally active president in history. The administration has already placed more square-miles under protection from development through monument status or other measures than any other U.S. president.

By U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - Pacific Region's - Red fish - Papahānaumokuākea Marine National MonumentUploaded by PDTillman, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14185367
Red fish at Papahānaumokuākea; photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

The new preserve extends a 50 mile ban on commercial fishing and deep sea mining extraction around the islands to 200 miles. The White House said recreational and subsistence fishing by native Hawaiians will still be permitted, as will scientific research in the area.

The expanded national monument is home to tropical birds, sea turtles, and whales located exclusively in the monument. The area also protects a large population of black coral, the longest-living marine species on the planet.

In addition to being a sacred area for Hawaiians, the monument commemorates the site of the Battle of Midway, a major Allied victory and turning point in World War II.

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