President Obama on Thursday signed a proclamation designating the world’s largest marine reserve and declaring it completely off limits to commercial fishing and mining.
The proclamation expands the existing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to six times its current size, resulting in 490,000 square miles (about 390,000 square nautical miles) of protected environment around tropical islands and atolls in the south-central Pacific Ocean. At that size, it is now the largest protected area on the planet, land or sea. The protected area encompasses the seven islands and reefs of Wake, Johnston, Baker, Howland, Kingman, Jarvis and Palmyra, as well as the ocean around them.
For comparison, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park covers an area of about 214,000 square miles.
The President and his administration identified expanding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument as an area of particular interest for protection because science has shown that large marine protected areas can help rebuild biodiversity, support fish populations, and improve overall ecosystem resilience. In choosing the area, the Administration examined how to expand protections near the Monument and considered input of fishermen, scientists, conservation experts, elected officials, and other stakeholders, which included a town hall meeting and over 170,000 comments submitted electronically.
The expanded Monument will include over 130 newly protected sea mounts, which are hotspots of biodiversity and are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The expansion is expected to better protect the delicate habitat, which includes sea turtles, marine mammals, manta rays and coral. The Monument is also home to millions of seabirds.
In June, President Obama launched a series of executive actions to increase protections for the ocean, including combating black market fishing, establishing a pathway to new marine sanctuaries, and understanding the impacts of ocean acidification.
The expanded monument will continue to be managed by the Departments of the Interior and Commerce through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration respectively.