Obama used his executive power to expand a national marine monument and protect the world’s oceans. On Thursday, September 25, President Obama added 87,000 sq. miles to the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument making it the largest network of protected ocean areas in the world.
The marine reserve now encompasses 490, 000 sq. miles, seven islands, and a scattering of reefs and atolls. It is an area roughly three times the size of California and is home to corals, plants and animals not found anywhere else on the planet. Its 130 underwater mountains are hotspots for ocean biodiversity.
The protected status includes bans on commercial fishing, deep-sea mining, and other commercial extraction of resources. However, recreational fishing will be allowed with a permit. It will be an area where green sea turtles and bottle-nose dolphins can dwell in safety and corals can grow unmolested. The marine monument contains some of the oldest and most diverse coral communities in the world. Golden corals 5,000 years old have been observed, providing important insight into the effect of climate changes on coral development.
The United States first claimed the islands within the monument and their surrounding waters in 1856 under the Guano Islands Act. Desire for the nutrient-rich bird guano as fertilizer led the U.S. to seize control of the islands. In January 2009, former president George W. Bush established the original monument. Obama’s expansion of the reserve holds true to the conservation promises he made during his campaign.
President Obama flexed his executive power to expand the marine park because Congress has stalled all bills for land preservation. Obama has protected more acres of federal land and sea using his legal authority than any other president in the last 50 years.
The oceans of the world are under threat from many sources. The pH is lowering as the oceans absorb carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and become more acidic. The temperature is rising; just two degrees may completely change the ocean biome. They are polluted. The Pacific ocean is the world’s largest garbage dump. Some of the “garbage patches” contain more micro-plastics than plankton. Oil is spilled on what seems to be a regular basis as it is drilled and transported coast to coast. And still, humans over-fish the seas, decimating fish populations and disrupting biodiversity.
The oceans form the base for life on earth. Most people are aware that life originated in the oceans and that early cyanobacteria – blue-green algae – oxygenated the atmosphere. Now people feel that life on land is disconnected from a healthy ocean. But if the ocean becomes over-heated, over-polluted and devoid of life, there will be repercussions for the entire planet.
People need water to drink, air to breathe and food to eat. Much of those resources come from the oceans. Although water cycles through the environment, more than 97 percent is held in the oceans at any given time. Ocean microorganisms still generate over 50 percent of the oxygen in the atmosphere, constantly renewing levels necessary for humans. Oceans yield a sixth of the animal protein humans consume. The water soaks up carbon dioxide and minimizes the environmental damage causing climate change. In addition, oceans are the most promising source of new medicines. As much as people know, oceans are the last unexplored frontier on earth. According to oceanographer Sylvia Earle, people have only seen about five percent of the underwater world.
Shockingly, less than one percent of the oceans are protected compared to 14 percent of earth’s land. If people could do one thing to ensure a future it would be to protect what remains of the natural environment that keeps humans alive.
Obama used his executive power to expand a national marine monument and protect the world’s oceans. As large as the marine reserve is, less than three percent of the Pacific Ocean is under protection. Hopefully other nations will follow President Obama’s lead and millions of square miles of ocean can be preserved for the health and benefit of the planet.
By: Rebecca Savastio