By Kira Heuer
Amazing news! The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument will now be nearly 490,000 square miles, about three times the size of California and six times larger than its previous size. The newly expanded monument is also larger than the sum total of all U.S. national parks on land, which add up to a combined 132,000 square miles. Commercial fishing, dumping, and mining will be prohibited in the reserve, but recreational fishing will be allowed with permits, and boaters may visit the area.
The protected area that Secretary of State John Kerry announced last month is actually smaller than the 782,000 square miles that the president initially considered. But environmentalists, preservationists, and conservation groups that had pushed for the expansion called President Barack Obama’s designation a historic victory in their efforts to limit the impact of fishing, drilling, and other activities that threaten some of the world’s most species-rich waters.
“What has happened is extraordinary. It is history making. There is a lot of reason we should be celebrating right now,” said Elliott Norse, founder and chief scientist of the Seattle-based Marine Conservation Institute.
Enric Sala, an ocean scientist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, called the newly expanded monument “a great example of marine protection.”
During the past several years, Sala and National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project—which aims to explore, survey, and protect several of the last wild places in the world’s oceans—have been key players in expeditions to the region that helped to put a spotlight on its biodiversity. Sala also met with White House officials to make the scientific case for expanding the Pacific Remote Islands monument. In announcing the expansion of protected marine areas, Kerry said, “We’re committed to protecting more of the world’s ocean. Today, one to three percent of the ocean is protected, that’s it. That’s why President Obama will sign a proclamation today that will create one of the largest maritime protected areas in the world. It will be protected in perpetuity.”
Michael Boots, chairman of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, made clear that by expanding protected areas, the administration sought to balance the need to preserve a range of marine species with concerns from the fishing industry, which had warned about the economic impact of curtailing deep-sea fishing areas.
Norse said that the newly protected areas will safeguard endangered seabirds and other key species, including five endangered sea turtle species (such as loggerheads and leatherbacks), sooty terns and other terns, silky sharks and oceanic whitetip sharks, beaked whales, manta rays, red-tailed tropic birds, and deep-sea corals. This is a huge step that will be remember in history!