President Obama announced Friday a four-fold expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument — northwest of the main Hawaiian islands — making it the largest environmental reserve in the world at just over 582,000 square miles, bigger than all U.S. national parks combined.
Originally created by President George W. Bush in 2006, the national monument is off-limits to commercial fishing and mining, which will help preserve over 7,000 species threatened by climate change and ocean dumping and acidification.
Papahānaumokuākea is also home to many endangered species, such as sea turtles, blue whales and Hawaiian monk seals. Approximately 25 percent of all sea-life there is exclusive to the Central Pacific region.
Expanding the marine park was first proposed by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and other well-know Native Hawaiian leaders, lobbied for by The Pew Charitable Trusts and supported by Greenpeace, which called Obama’s announcement a “bold decision”.
Local commercial fishing advocacy groups, such as the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council and Hawaii Longline Association bemoaned the expansion of Papahānaumokuākea, arguing it will hurt the local economy.
“Closing 60 percent of Hawaii’s waters to commercial fishing, when science is telling us that it will not lead to more productive local fisheries, makes no sense,” said Western Pacific chairman Edwin Ebiusi, Jr. “Today is a sad day in the history of Hawaii’s fisheries and a negative blow to our local food security.”
To-date, President Obama has established 25 new national monuments under the Antiquities Act of 1906 — legislation signed by America’s first conservation-minded president, Theodore Roosevelt. Obama plans to visit Midway Atoll, a small island within Papahānaumokuākea’s protected area next week.
Marine biologist Sylvia Earle explained that preserving these areas around the world is essential in a time when global temperatures are rising and humans are continuing to exploit the oceans for commercial interests.
“Blue parks,” Earle says, “are not a luxury — a place to go and have a good time. Resilience to climate change is dependent upon having significant areas of natural protection — for biodiversity and for all the things that hold the planet steady. This is vitally important to protect our life-support system.”
[AP] [BBC] [National Geographic]