Far off America’s shores, an ocean preserve flush with rare seabirds, turtles and marine mammals will grow to roughly three times the size of California under a memorandum that U.S. President Barack Obama signed on Thursday.
The expanded Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument will cover 490,000 square miles (1.2 million sq. km), making it the largest marine preserve in the world, the White House has said. The move puts the remote waters surrounding a collection of islands off—limits to drilling and most fishing in a bid to protect fragile underwater life.
“This really is a matter of stewardship. It’s also a matter of generational responsibility,” said Secretary of State John Kerry. “We have a responsibility to make sure our kids and their families and the future has the same ocean to serve it in the same way as we have not to be abused, but to preserve and utilize.”
Millions of marine animals live in the bio-rich expanse included by the new monument, which will also add new protections for more than 130 “seamounts” underwater mountains where rare or undiscovered species are frequently found.
Commercial fishing, deep-sea mining and other extraction of underwater resources will be banned, but recreational fishing will still be allowed, in an attempt to preserve the public’s access to federal areas. The islands sit between Hawaii and American Samoa and are divided into five regions. Mr. Obama is extending the preserve to the full 200 miles (320 km) but only for three of the five regions.
Mr. Obama first signalled his intent to expand the monument in June and asked for input on the final boundaries from fishermen, lawmakers and scientists. Officials said they received more than 1,70,000 electronic comments on the proposal.
While a major symbolic victory for environmentalists, who long urged Mr. Obama to take this step, the designation will have limited practical implications. That’s because little fishing or drilling are taking place in the region even without the new protections. — AP