Newly Expanded Reserve Provides a Haven for Marine Wildlife

In a significant step forward for marine wildlife and our planet’s ocean ecosystems, President Obama last week authorized the expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. The President’s proclamation expands the existing monument from 83,000 square miles to 490,000 square miles, making it the largest marine reserve in the world.

Red footed booby.  Photo by USFWS - Pacific
Red footed booby. Photo credit: USFWS – Pacific
By using his authority under the Antiquities Act to expand this protected marine landscape, the President did for the oceans and marine wildlife what he has already done for some of America’s terrestrial landscapes. Presidents of both parties have long used this power for environmental conservation. The Grand Canyon was originally protected as a monument by President Theodore Roosevelt.  More recently, President George W. Bush created four marine national monuments, including the initial protection of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Allowing Endangered Wildlife and Depleted Fisheries to Rebound

The near pristine reefs and waters surrounding the Pacific Remote Islands in the Central Pacific Ocean represent one of the last frontiers and havens for wildlife.  Up to half the creatures that live there are found nowhere else on Earth, and some of the corals here are close to 5,000 years old. An estimated 14 million seabirds representing 19 different species depend on the area’s fish and uninhabited islands for survival. The waters around these islands are of global importance for large predatory fishes like endangered Bluefin tuna, Whitetip sharks and yellowfin tuna; whose populations have declined 80%-90% across the world’s oceans.

These waters are some of the richest areas on earth for ocean life, home to countless species of marine mammals, fish, sea turtles, corals and other marine life.
The waters of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument are some of the richest areas on Earth for ocean life, home to countless species of marine mammals, fish, sea turtles, corals and other marine life.
Large, permanently protected marine reserves have been shown to be very effective at maintaining biodiversity and producing more fish because of the absence of large-scale commercial fishing within the monument itself.  Fisheries outside of the monument benefit as a result of increased reproduction within reserves, which then spill over into adjacent, unprotected areas. Less than five percent of distance-water commercial fishing occurs in or near these waters. While allowed, virtually no recreational fishing occurs due to the area’s extreme remoteness.

The President’s expansion, while not as large as some researchers and conservationists were advocating for, nonetheless puts more of the planet’s oceans under protection than any other world leader and the benefits to fisheries and ocean wildlife are surely unprecedented. The scaled down size appears to be the result of pressure from groups such as the Honolulu-based Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, which advocates for commercial tuna fishing fleets.

Pacific Remote Islands Expansion Marine National Monument Expansion Map
Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument expansion map. Credit: Marine Conservation Institute

A Response to Overwhelming Public Support

The president’s proclamation expanding the monument came about as a result of overwhelming pubic support from Hawai’i and across the nation. NWF joined 40 other national conservation organizations and foundations, more than 200 scientists, 200 Native Hawaiian leaders and 35 Hawai’i business leaders in speaking out in support of monument expansion. 135,000 U.S. citizens, including hundreds from National Wildlife Federation’s action community, sent messages of support to the White House during the public comment period.

While there is certainly more to do here, President Obama has signaled America’s commitment to ensuring the longer-term survival of ocean life for future generations. We will need to keep the pressure up in order to ensure that key endangered species survive.

Please join us in thanking the President for his leadership and action thus far in defense of ocean wildlife and a green (and blue) future.