President Obama has used his executive authority under the Antiquities Act to expand the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument making it the largest marine protected area on Earth. The designation will expand the existing Marine National Monument by 442,781 square miles, bringing the total protected area to 582,578 square miles. The monument was originally created in 2006 by President George W. Bush and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.
The Monument is part of the most remote island archipelago on Earth. The expansion provides critical protections for more than 7,000 marine species, including whales and sea turtles listed under the Endangered Species Act and the longest living marine species in the world – black coral, which have been found to live longer than 4,500 years according to information provided by the administration. They also said that as ocean acidification, warming, and other impacts of climate change threaten marine ecosystems, expanding the monument will improve ocean resilience, help the region’s distinct physical and biological resources adapt, and create a natural laboratory that will allow scientists to monitor and explore the impacts of climate change on these fragile ecosystems.
In June, Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii and native leaders asked the President to expand the marine monument. Two public meetings were held about the expansion in Hawaii. The proposal was hailed by conservationists, scientists, fishermen, cultural groups and native Hawaiians.
The area contains resources of great historical and cultural significance. The expanded area is considered a sacred place for the Native Hawaiian community. It plays a significant role in Native Hawaiian creation and settlement stories, and is used to practice important activities like traditional long distance voyaging and way finding. Also, within the expanded area, can be found shipwrecks and downed aircraft from the Battle of Midway in World War II, marking a final resting place for more than 3,000 individuals.
Commercial fishing and any future mineral extraction are prohibited in the expansion area, as they are within the existing monument. Noncommercial fishing, such as recreational fishing and the removal of fish and other resources for Native Hawaiian cultural practices, is allowed in the expansion area by permit, as is scientific research.
The Departments of Interior and Commerce have announced that an agreement will soon be signed with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs providing for a greater management role as a trustee in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
President Obama followed in the footsteps of 16 Presidents who used the Antiquities Act starting with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 to protect treasures such as the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty and Colorado’s Canyon of the Ancients. President Obama has protected more land and water than any Administration in history.
Photo Courtesy of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument