Will President Obama Create the Largest Marine Protected Area on the Planet?
A self-proclaimed “island boy” with “aloha spirit,” President Barack Obama†clearly has respect for†Hawaii.†In a Paris COP21 speech, President Obama explained, “Some of their [Asia-Pacific] nations could disappear entirely, and as weather patterns change, we might deal with tens of millions of climate refugees in the Asia-Pacific region.” A far cry from Donald Trump’s environmental platform (I still shudder thinking about it), President Obama understands how important the environment is both as a politician and as a person.
So it makes sense that Hawaiian leaders are now turning to President Obama for help: They are asking the President to make one of the world’s largest marine protected areas — the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument — even larger.
A Sacred Monument
The Monument is a “140,000-square-mile area of the Pacific where remote islands, atolls, islets and coral reefs serve as habitat for some of the world’s most endangered species,” according to the Associated Press. The Papahanaumokuakea region is sacred to indigenous Hawaiians for its role in traditional history, culture and cosmology.
As the AP†reports, Native Hawaiian leaders want President Obama to extend the monument’s boundary to the entire 200 nautical-mile limit: “While the current boundary of Papahanaumokuakea includes vital habitat for a number of species, it doesn’t fully protect habitat and travel routes for several species including Hawaiian monk seals, green sea turtles, sharks, whales, Black-footed and Laysan albatrosses as well as other species.”
The leaders argue that this environmental undertaking would make the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument the largest protected marine area on the planet.
Hope Spots for Our Blue Heart
Our planet desperately needs more protected marine areas. I first learned of the importance of protected marine areas from Dr. Sylvia Earle‘s TED Prize talk. In her speech, the brilliant oceanographer behind the Mission Blue documentary, helped me understand that life on earth wouldn’t be possible without the ocean.
“No blue, no green,” she says.
Dr. Earle’s wish at the time (2009) was for all of us to support a global network of marine protected areas through “hope spots” — “protected areas that are large enough to save and restore the ocean,” or the blue heart of our planet — since only 1 percent of the global oceans were protected.
While some experts estimate that 10 percent needs to be protected and others argue that it’s more like 30 percent, Dr. Earle brilliantly asks, “How much of your heart do you want to protect?”
How Much Ocean Do We Really Need to Protect?
Currently, about two†percent of our oceans are protected. But a 2016 study published in Conservation Letters claims that it’s not enough — 30 percent, or more, of protected marine areas would be†optimal, reports Phys.org. The researchers discovered five main benefits at this 30 percent threshold:
1. Safeguarded biodiversity
2. Ensured population connectivity among marine protected areas
3. Avoided†fisheries and population collapse
4. Optimized†value or yield of fisheries
5. Fulfilled needs of different stakeholders
Even though it may sound counterintuitive at first, protecting more ocean from fishing makes for better fishing. You can’t really fish in fishless oceans after all. As one of the study’s authors, Bethan O’ Leary, explains to Phys.org, “The natural world needs substantial space free from significant human impact to thrive.”
At COP21, President Obama invoked the words of an American governor when he said, “We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, and the last generation that can do something about it.” The good news, in the case of the ocean, is that all we need to do is leave it alone and marine life will thrive.
Will you help make Dr. Earle’s wish come true by signing and sharing this petition urging President Obama, an island boy at heart, to expand Hawaii’s Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument? The blue heart of our planet is on the line.
Photo Credit: Geordie Mott