Obama to create world’s largest protected marine reserve in Pacific Ocean

President Obama will use his legal authority Thursday to create the world’s largest fully protected marine reserve in the central Pacific Ocean, demonstrating his increased willingness to advance a conservation agenda without the need for congressional approval.

By broadening the existing Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument from almost 87,000 square miles to more than 490,000 square miles, Obama has protected more acres of federal land and sea by executive power than any other president in at least 50 years and makes the area off-limits to commercial fishing.

The proclamation will mean added protections for deep-sea coral reefs and other marine ecosystems that administration officials believe are among “the most vulnerable” to the negative impacts of climate change.

While the new designation is a scaled-back version of an even more ambitious plan the administration had floated in June, it marks the 12th time Obama will have exercised his power under the 1906 Antiquities Act to protect environmental assets. The decision to continue to allow fishing around roughly half the area’s islands and atolls aims to limit any economic impact on the U.S. fishing interests.

The unilateral move comes as the administration has found it nearly impossible to achieve many of its other domestic priorities. Consumed by foreign crises and blocked legislatively at home by congressional Republicans, the president and his aides have worked methodically to pursue their environmental objectives through executive action.

Even as it uses its authority to expand a monument first established by George W. Bush in 2009, the White House is preparing to act under the same law to designate national monuments in Chicago’s historic Pullman district and the San Gabriel mountain range northeast of Los Angeles.

“I hope we’re at a tipping point,” said Kristen Brengel, senior director of policy for the National Parks Conservation Association, noting that many of the bills aimed at creating parks and wilderness areas are stalled on Capitol Hill. “It’s every community’s right to go to the president and say, ‘We just can’t get this passed by Congress, can you step in and help us there?’ ”

Under the new designation, the administration will expand the fully protected areas from 50 miles offshore from three remote areas — Johnston Atoll, Wake Atoll and Jarvis Island — to 200 miles, the maximum area within the United States’ exclusive economic zone. The existing, 50-mile safeguards around Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll, as well as Howland and Baker islands, which are also part of the existing monuments, will not change.

Obama has protected 297 million acres of federal lands and waters through executive action, surpassing George W. Bush, who safeguarded 211 million acres.

While the islands in question are uninhabited, U.S. tuna operators and some officials in Hawaii and American Samoa have opposed the expansion on the grounds that it could make it more difficult to catch tuna and other species at certain times of year. Fish caught in the area around all seven atolls and islands account for up to 4 percent of the annual U.S. tuna catch in the western and central Pacific, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Full article: Obama to create world’s largest protected marine reserve in Pacific Ocean (The Washington Post)

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