Wonderful news! President Obama announced this week that he will use his executive authority to expand the Remote Pacific Islands National Marine Monument, a vast stretch of the central Pacific Ocean, making it off-limits to fishing, energy exploration and other activities.
The monument was created by President Bush in 2009, just before he left office.
Under the proposal, the Monument would be expanded from almost 87,000 square miles to nearly 782,000 square miles — all of it adjacent to seven islands and atolls controlled by the United States. This would create the world’s largest marine sanctuary and double the area of ocean globally that is fully protected.
Protecting the environment is always a good thing, but in case you’re wondering why President Obama is using his executive authority to expand this particular monument, here are five good reasons:
1. President Obama cares about the environment.
In his 2014 State of the Union address the President promised to “protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.” And he has been doing just that. Earlier this year, he designated the Organ Mountains in New Mexico a National Monument; this was the 11th and largest National Monument of Obama’s presidency. The President has also promised to fight climate change, and on June 2, he became the first president ever to move to regulate carbon pollution from power plants – the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions that cause climate change. This issue is real for the President: according to his aides, he routinely brings up climate change in closed-door meetings with world leaders, and he also talks about global warming’s implications with his teenage daughters.
2. President Obama is building a maritime legacy.
“I’m going to use my authority to protect some of our nation’s most precious marine landscapes,” Obama said in a video to participants at the State Department’s inaugural Our Ocean conference this week, adding that while the ocean is being degraded, “We cannot afford to let that happen. That’s why the United States is leading the fight to protect our oceans.” The Washington conference brought together leaders and experts from around the world to discuss how best to protect the oceans. Obama will also direct federal agencies to develop a comprehensive program aimed at combating seafood fraud and the global black-market fish trade. And one more thing: last week the administration finalized a rule allowing the public to nominate new marine sanctuaries off U.S. coasts and in the Great Lakes.
3. Bigger is often better.
Expanding the Monument from nearly 82,000 square miles to almost 782,000 square miles is a great idea. Scientists such as Lance Morgan and Elliott Norse of the Marine Conservation Institute argue that the ecological benefits expand exponentially when marine reserves are enlarged: they allow species to move freely and they are easier to enforce. By expanding, the number of protected seamounts, massive mountains that lie beneath the ocean’s surface, would also increase. There are anywhere between 40 to 51 in the current protected area, and that number would reach between 241 and 251. That’s important because seamounts are hotspots of diversity.
4. Marine reserves increase resilience to climate change.
U.S. waters make up the largest ocean territory on earth, but most of them are not fully protected. However, research shows that fully protected marine reserves are essential both for rebuilding species abundance and diversity and for developing protection against climate change. They are also an important tool for safeguarding the overall health of the marine environment. And with no people around, animals can thrive. This area happens to feature five species of protected sea turtles and 22 species of protected marine mammals as well as several million seabirds.
5. It‘s traditional.
President Obama’s pledge follows in the footsteps of previous presidents, both Democratic and Republican, who have acted to conserve the nation’s environment. Theodore Roosevelt started it when he placed Midway Island under the protection of the Navy to stop the killing of seabirds there for their eggs and feathers, and then he helped usher through the Antiquities Act of 1906, to ensure his successors would also have the power to provide heightened protections for federal land and waters without congressional approval.
The GOP of course wants to challenge President Obama’s executive powers under the Antiquities Act, but that’s another story.
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