This is great day for anyone who has ever marveled at wide-open seas and rich ocean life. President Obama announced plans to protect a vast stretch of the central Pacific Ocean home to coral gardens and underwater mountain ranges. This wild and pristine area is largely untouched by destructive fishing, oil spills, or other industrial activity. Now it will remain vibrant for generations to come.
The president’s plan calls for dramatically expanding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument that was established by President George W. Bush in January 2009. The Obama administration is still finalizing the outline, but it could extend the monument from the current 87,000 square miles to up to 782,000 square miles.
That would double the area of protected ocean waters around the globe.
This is a bold step forward, but it also builds on a time-honored tradition. For the last hundred years, Republican and Democratic presidents alike have preserved our nation’s ocean waters. President Teddy Roosevelt, for instance, protected Midway Island to safeguard seabirds. President George W. Bush holds the record, having created four marine protected areas—the equivalent of national parks in the sea.
We need these protections now more than ever. Ninety percent of large fish like tuna and swordfish have been taken by overfishing. Armadas of bottom trawlers scrape an expanse of ocean floor 75 times larger than clearcut forests every year. Pollution from oil and gas development, toxic runoff, and miles and miles of plastic trash foul the waters and threaten marine life.
These threats affect every one of us, because we all depend on the oceans—no matter where we live. They produce half the oxygen in our air. They shape our weather and stabilize our climate. One in four people in the world relies on fish as our primary source of protein. And many Americans count on it for their livelihoods. Most people don’t realize that the U.S. oceans economy is greater than the nation’s entire agriculture sector.
The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument may be distant from our shores, but it will help us understand how healthy marine ecosystems work and how we can revive troubled seas closer to home. Other marine protected areas, for instance, have been proven to help restore fish and other marine wildlife. And who knows what others insights we will gain from the abundant life thriving within this region’s deep mountain canyons and treasure troves of biodiversity.
As the summer arrives and millions of Americans head to the coast, we can all feel proud that our nation has the wisdom to preserve our ocean riches. The plan President Obama announced today will set a new record for marine protection and set the stage for more action in U.S. waters and around the globe.
These are the steps that will move us closer toward a sustainable future—one where our children and grandchildren will experience oceans full of life and vitality.