A Motion for the Ocean

President Obama just announced the first two new marine sanctuaries in 15 years.

Lake Michigan, as seen from Port Washington, Wisconsin
Credit: Photo: Elvis Kennedy/Flickr

As the crowd watched from the Our Ocean conference in Valparaiso, Chile, this morning, President Obama announced over video what could become the first new marine sanctuaries in U.S. waters since 2000: one in the tidal waters of Maryland and another in Lake Michigan.

The sanctuary in Lake Michigan would span 875 square miles off the Wisconsin coast, from Port Washington to Two Rivers. The area contains at least 39 shipwrecks, 15 of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In Maryland, Mallows Bay is a 14-square-mile section of the Potomac River near Charles County. Mostly undeveloped, it provides important habitat for osprey, nesting bald eagles, migratory waterfowl, and other rare, threatened, and endangered species. Plus—more shipwrecks! Nearly 200 vessels from the Revolutionary War onward went down in this stretch of sea, including the largest ghost fleet of World War I steamships.

A ship in the ghost fleet at Mallows Bay.
Credit: Photo: Joel Kinison/Flickr

To safeguard seas farther away from our shores, the Obama administration also unveiled new initiatives today to combat illegal fishing, which is taking place in waters across the globe. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is currently developing new tools to detect illegal fishing boats, while the global initiative Sea Scout will encourage world leaders to collaborate on catching and prosecuting illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

The two new designations were possible because NOAA opened up the nomination process for the public last year for the first time in two decades. The agency has received seven submissions so far, but only Mallows Bay and Lake Michigan have passed muster. A public comment period will last until mid-January, and, if approved, they’ll join the country’s 14 other marine protected areas.

The proposed boundaries for the Lake Michigan national marine sanctuary. Illustrated by NOAA.
The proposed boundaries for the Mallows Bay national marine sanctuary. Illustrated by NOAA.

This isn’t the first time protections for the country’s marine areas have improved on President Obama’s watch. In December, he made Alaska’s Bristol Bay off-limits to oil and gas development, and last year, he expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to protect 400,000 square miles from commercial fishing and deep-sea mining, making it the largest marine reserve in the world. And with another year to go yet in his presidency, Obama promised to do even more from sea to shining sea all over this Blue Planet.

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