Last week, President Obama finalized his decision to preserve an area of ocean three times larger than California – the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.
It’s the largest protected area of ocean in the world and is larger than all US national parks combined (132,000 square miles).
When he made the announcement in June, he proposed enlarging it from 87,000 square miles to nearly 782,000 square miles, but wanted to first receive input from stakeholders, such as fishermen, scientists, and conservation experts.
In the end, he signed a memorandum that preserves an additional 408,000 square miles – three of the five regions. After receiving 130,000 positive comments about the original plan, Obama bowed to commercial tuna fishing interests, even though there’s hardly any tuna there.
Still, 15% of US oceans are now free from exploitation, up from 6%.
The final monument protects areas around Wake Island, Johnston Atoll and Jarvis Island:
"This action is the latest in a global movement to create large, highly protected marine reserves to counter the dramatic declines in ocean health caused by overfishing, pollution, and development, as well as the emerging challenges associated with climate change," says Pew Charitable Trusts.
Thousands of miles southwest of Hawaii, this remote area of the Pacific Ocean teems with wildlife. There are 130 seamounts (undersea mountains) and spectacular coral ecosystems that serve as vital breeding and feeding grounds for millions of marine animals: whales, sea turtles, fish, and millions of seabirds.
Even though the region is pristine at the moment with little interest from fishermen, that could change in the future. Secretary of State Kerry says he wants to get agreement this year on the Port State Measures Agreement – an international treaty that requires member nations to make sure illegally caught fish don’t get to market. 11 out of the 25 nations needed have ratified the treaty.