Obama creates vast Pacific Ocean marine reserve

BBC News 26 Sep 14;

Palmyra atoll The protected area is home to corals, seabirds and vegetation not found anywhere else in the world

US President Barack Obama has signed a memorandum to expand a vast marine reserve in the Pacific Ocean.

The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument will become the largest network of oceanic protected areas in the world.

The memorandum bans commercial fishing, deep-sea mining and other extraction of underwater resources in the area.

Environmental campaigners welcomed the move although some critics say President Obama could have done more.

"This really is a matter of stewardship. It's also a matter of generational responsibility," said US Secretary of State John Kerry.

"We have a responsibility to make sure... the future has the same ocean to serve it. Not to be abused, but to preserve and utilise."

The Pacific Remote Islands Area consists of seven scattered islands, atolls and reefs that lie between Hawaii and American Samoa.

The waters that surround these islands are home to corals, seabirds, sharks and vegetation not found anywhere else in the world.
Area 'pristine'

President George W Bush set up the marine preserve in 2009 but until now it only encompassed an area 50 nautical miles (92km) from the islands' shores.

Now the protected area is being expanded to 200 nautical miles from the unique atolls. It will cover 490,000 sq miles (1.2m sq km) - an area roughly three times the size of California.

Mr Obama first signalled his intention to expand the monument in June and asked for comments on the final boundaries from fishermen, lawmakers and scientists.

Environmental groups greeted the announcement and said they hoped it would spur other nations to take similar steps.

"The president acted expeditiously, while the area is still largely pristine and undisturbed," said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

However, some critics say the expansion falls short of what Mr Obama could have done had he used the full extent of his powers.

The islands affected are divided into five regions and the expansion only involves three of them.

If Mr Obama had expanded the preserve in all five regions he could have protected more than 780,000 sq miles, some environmentalists say.

Barack Obama to create world's largest ocean reserve in the Pacific
Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which bans commercial fishing, to be expanded to six times its current size
Suzanne Goldenberg theguardian.com 25 Sep 14;

Barack Obama will use his presidential powers on Thursday to create the world’s largest marine reserve in the Pacific, banning fishing and other commercial activities across vast swaths of pristine sea populated by whales, dolphins and sea turtles and dotted with coral atolls.

Thursday’s proclamation will expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument reserve, created by George Bush, to about six times its current size.

It will ban commercial fishing and deep sea mining in about 490,000 square miles around remote tropical atolls and islands in the south-central Pacific Ocean, a White House fact sheet said.

Other vast swathes of the Pacific will also come under protection on Thursday, with the tiny island state of Kiribati due to announce that it will ban commercial fishing in one of the last great tuna grounds left in the world.

Kiribati’s no-take zone, around the Phoenix Islands protected area, will cover about 158,000 sq m, about the size of California. It comes into effect in January 2015.

Campaigners said the Pacific Remote Islands reserve – because of its sheer scale – would cement Obama’s conservation legacy.

However, they noted that Obama had dramatically scaled back the reserve following opposition from the commercial tuna industry.

The Marine Conservation Institute had been pressing Obama to expand the marine park to the fullest extent possible, around all seven islands and atolls, which would have pushed the limits of the no-take areas to about 782,000 sq m instead of the 490,000 being announced on Thursday.

But after protests from Hawaii-based tuna fleets, Obama opted to leave the seas around four of those islands – Howland and Baker islands, Palmyra atoll and Kingman Reef – open to fishing.

The existing boundaries of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument are outlined in light blue. The other Monuments, outlined in purple and green, are not being changed. Photograph: Noaa

It was the 12th time Obama has bypassed Congress and used the antiquities act for environmental protection.

“This is a great moment,” said Greg Stone, chief scientist for Conservation International. “This is some of the last real tropical ocean wilderness left on the planet, so it’s good put some of these kind of reef systems aside. On top of that there are the protections for the opean ocean and I’m assuming for the sea floor from mining,” he said.

The White House said it created the marine park in response to changing ocean chemistry caused by climate change.

“Expanding the monument will more fully protect the deep coral reefs, seamounts, and marine ecosystems unique to this part of the world, which are also among the most vulnerable areas to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification,” it said.

It said the expanded monument would broaden protection for wide-ranging marine species such as whales, sea turtles and manta ray, as well as the millions of birds that nest on the atolls.

“We have very few places left in the ocean that are still near pristine and it is very important to protect them,” said Enrique Sala, explorer-in-residence for National Geographic.

Thursday’s proclamation nearly doubles the expanse of ocean off limits to fishing and deep sea mining, he said.

Obama has adopted ocean protection as one of the signature issues of his second term – with assistance from the secretary of state, John Kerry, who is a veteran supporter of environmental causes.

The proposal for a marine preserve was first floated last July at a state department ocean summit.

Catherine Novelli, undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, said the administration was working with Kiribati and other small island states to expand protections across the Pacific.

“These marine protected areas are very important for the ocean. The reason why we are going to get more countries to do them is because the whole biosphere, including the fish, need to be able to regenerate,” she said. “If everyone is just fishing, fishing, fishing, there is no space for that to occur.”

The state department is launching an initiative with other governments and charitable foundations on Thursday that will look at ways of enforcing no-take rules in marine preserves, and cracking down on pirate fishing fleets.