WASHINGTON (CN) – Months after announcing an extensive expansion to the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, President Barack Obama proclaimed a modified expansion hammered out with opponents from the fishing industry. Last week’s presidential proclamation responded to a fire storm of concern in response to the June announcement of his plan to use his presidential authority to vastly expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which was originally designated by President George W. Bush in 2009 under the Antiquities Act.
When established, the monument covered approximately 65,610 square nautical miles, extending 50 nautical miles around Kingman Reef, Howland, Baker and Jarvis Islands, and Johnston, Wake and Palmyra Atolls. President Obama proposed to expand that to a 200 nautical mile zone around the islands, atolls and reef, but the amended proclamation maintains the 50-mile zone around Howland and Baker Islands, Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef. The monument will now encompass 370,000 square nautical miles, six times its current size.
Since the June announcement, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WPRFMC), the Hawaii longline fishing industry, U.S. longline and purse-seine fishermen, tuna cannery representatives, governors of American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and others, expressed concern over the possible economic toll the expansion would take on local and U.S. fishery industries.
“We appreciate the White House’s compromise on a monument expansion that could have devastated the region’s fisheries and communities without notable environmental benefits. We now look to see how this declaration will be achieved in practice, beyond paper and politics, and hope that the U.S. Coast Guard will use additional enforcement funds to patrol U.S. waters as a first priority,” WPRFMC Executive Director Kitty Simonds was quoted as saying in the organization’s response to the proclamation. “The U.S. Pacific Islands came together as a united regional voice on this issue and that speaks to the anxiety at the prospect of an immense expansion of a presidential monument with little-to-no local consultation.”
The administration “considered the input of fishermen, scientists, conservation experts, elected officials, and other stakeholders, including through a town hall meeting and over 170,000 comments submitted electronically,” according to a White House fact sheet.
The president’s proclamation notes that the additional areas of “highly pristine deep sea and open ocean ecosystem with unique biodiversity” contain significant objects of scientific interest, habitat for corals, significant geological features for scientific study, undiscovered species, habitat for protected species, and opportunities to study the effects of climate change, ocean acidification and coral bleaching. Some of the deepwater corals in the region are estimated to be thousands of years old.
“Roughly 5 to 10 percent of invertebrates found on each survey of a seamount are new to science,” the proclamation noted. There are approximately 132 seamounts (undersea mountains that do not reach the surface) in the expansion area. Up to 44 percent of the species on a seamount are found nowhere else. Some of these species may be important for research, medicines, and other valuable uses.
Some of the better known species that live in or use the expansion area are five protected turtle species, sooty terns, lesser frigatebirds, red-footed boobies, red-tailed tropicbirds, two species of albatross, the endangered white-throated storm petrel, and manta rays.
The monument is off limits to commercial fishing and other extraction activities such as deep sea mining. It will be jointly managed under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
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