Obama Makes Hawaii Marine Reserve World's Largest

Turn to the nation's most objective and informative daily environmental news resource to learn how the United States and key players around the world are responding to the environmental...

By Carolyn Whetzel

Aug. 26 — President Barack Obama Aug. 26 quadrupled the size of a marine reserve off the coast of Hawaii, establishing the world's largest marine protected area.

The expansion adds 442,781 square miles to the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, located in the waters surrounding the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, an area nearly four times as large as California.

“President Obama has created a safe zone that will replenish stocks of tuna, promote biodiversity, and fight climate change, and he has given Native Hawaiians a greater voice in managing this precious resource,” U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said in a statement.

The president used his executive authority under the Antiquities Act to expand the protected area President George W. Bush designated as a marine national monument in 2006.

Interior Department officials worked with Native Hawaiians, state and local officials, community leaders, fishermen and others to come up with a proposal to stretch the boundaries of the marine monument to 582,578 square miles.

Effect on Fishing

In an Aug. 24 letter to the president, Hawaii Gov. David Y. Ige (D) said the new boundaries will eliminate about 6.5 percent of Hawaii's commercial longline fleet's current catch in pounds, but fishing can be moved to other locations to reduce the decrease.

As in the existing reserve, commercial fishing and other resource extraction activities are prohibited within the expanded protected area.

“In these times of increasing global threats to our natural and cultural resources, globally significant action will preserve our heritage” and “our collective future,” Ige said in the letter.

The marine national monument supports a dynamic reef ecosystem with more than 7,000 marine species of which one quarter is unique to the Hawaiian Islands. It is home to a variety of species of coral, fish, birds and marine mammals and other flora and fauna, including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, three endangered whale species and the endangered leatherback and hawksbill sea turtles, the Interior Department said in a statement.

“President Obama has not only protected one of the world's most unique marine ecosystems, he has also underscored the importance of ocean resilience in the face of global climate change,” the Ocean Conservancy Chief Executive Officer Andreas Merkl said in a statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Carolyn Whetzel in Los Angeles at cwhetzel@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.