US president Barack Obama has promised to increase efforts to tackle illegal fishing and extend the existing marine protected area between Hawaii and American Samoa.
The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, as the protected zone is known, already spans nearly 200,000 sq km (77,020 square miles). But under Obama’s proposal, it could be expanded to nearly 2m sq km (782,000 square miles).
The announcement comes after secretary of state John Kerry opened the Our Ocean conference in Washington, which was attended by government officials from across the world and looked at important issues for the oceans, such as overfishing, pollution and acidification.
In front of an international audience at the White House on Tuesday, Obama said, “Growing up in Hawaii, I learned early to appreciate the beauty and power of the ocean.
“And like presidents Clinton and Bush before me, I’m going to use my authority as president to protect some of our most precious marine landscapes, just like we do for mountains and rivers and forests.”
While the size of the protected extension has not been decided yet, drilling and fishing would be banned and, if approved, the area would double the current size of the world’s marine fully protected zones.
Obama added, “If we ignore these problems, if we drain our oceans of their resources, we won’t just be squandering one of humanity’s greatest treasures, we will be cutting off one of the world’s major sources of food and economic growth”.
Michele Kuruc, acting senior vice-president for marine conservation at the WWF, said, “It’s clear that the president and secretary Kerry understand and value the importance of protecting our oceans.
“By expanding marine protected areas and combating illegal fishing, the administration is using the power of the presidency to secure the long-term health of our oceans and the livelihoods they support.”
The move has gained criticism among Republicans, with chairman of the House Natural Resources committee Doc Hastings saying in a statement, “Oceans, like our federal lands, are intended to be multiple-use and open for a wide range of economic activities that includes fishing, recreation, conservation and energy production.
“It appears this administration will use whatever authorities – real or made-up – to close our ocean and coastal areas with blatant disregard for possible economic consequences.”
Photo: USFWS – Pacific Region via flickr