Extending to the horizon, the sea appears limitless, and throughout human history, we have often acted as if it is – catching fish in increasingly vast numbers and pouring in pollution that seems to disappear. No wonder ocean conservation efforts have lagged behind those of land efforts. Tragically, the ocean is now in distress from warming, overfishing, pollution and other threats.
It is calling out for help, and we have responded.
President Obama answered the ocean’s call. He will create the largest protected area on Earth – not just the largest in our oceans, but the largest on our planet. Its size is immense. At 490,938 square miles, it is three times the size of California. This is a remarkable act of generosity for our oceans and for the sharks, tunas, sea turtles, seabirds and marine mammals that call this part of the sea home. It creates a refuge, a place made more resilient to the impacts of ocean acidification and warming that may change the oceans for hundreds or thousands of years. The expanded Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument will be a permanent sanctuary for the sea life that lives there.
We are so excited about this announcement because Marine Conservation Institute has been focused on Pacific protection for a long time. We started our work in the central Pacific in the early 2000’s, many years in advance of seeing results. With our best scientific work in hand, President George W. Bush designated the initial marine national monuments, protecting the Northwest Hawaiian Islands in 2006, followed by 83,000 square miles of important habitat around the Pacific Remote Islands in 2009. For the last five years, we have continued to research these remarkable areas and advocate for their protection; and now President Obama has taken a giant leap into a more sustainable future by declaring the vast majority of the U.S. waters around the islands as no-take protected areas – free from commercial extraction.
The President’s action today will be seen by marine conservationists a century from now as a major and historic step in marine conservation. He has created a large-scale, permanently and strongly protected (i.e., no fishing or other extraction) reserve that is needed to give us hope of recovering and maintaining sea life on a global scale. This kind of protection will be needed in the next century as climate change sweeps through our oceans. In the new monument, the prized tunas that are being hunted and eaten to near extinction will find a refuge and a place to rebuild depleted populations. The millions of seabirds who depend on tunas driving forage fish to the surface for dinner to feed their young will continue to hunt as they have for millennia. Threatened species of sharks and sea turtles that aggregate around the more than 250 underwater mountains (called seamounts) found inside the boundaries of the expanded monuments will no longer face off against millions of long line hooks and miles of purse seine nets from commercial fishing boats.
When President Teddy Roosevelt first used the Antiquities Act over a century ago to protect beautiful shore birds from feather hunters and Native American archaeological sites from looters by creating national monuments, he could little imagine that the world would change so much that our oceans would need to be protected with marine monuments. But the world has changed and will continue to transform under the onslaught of climate change and overfishing. Now, President Obama is following in Roosevelt’s footsteps and completing President George W. Bush’s important work in the Pacific. So today, on behalf of the Marine Conservation Institute and on behalf of the sea life that has no voice, we say ‘thank you, Mr. President!”