Report: Obama aims to protect giant Pacific zone

President Obama will use his executive authority to declare some 782,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean off-limits to fishing, energy exploration, and other human activities, according to a report in the Washington Post.

Under the plan, Obama will declare ocean areas 200 nautical miles offshore of seven U.S.-controlled Pacific islands and atolls as a protected national monument.

The plan would also provide protections for almost two dozen types of marine mammals, five threatened species of sea turtles, and several predatory fish species — including sharks.

Former President George W. Bush first declared the areas surrounding the Pacific Remote Islands a national monument.

But Obama’s executive order will expand the amount of protected sea by nearly nine times the area designated by Bush, and remove an exemption provided by the former president that allowed commercial fisheries to continue operating in the area.

That’s likely to draw the ire of tuna companies, which actively fish in the western and central Pacific.

The president’s plan could also come under criticism from congressional Republicans, who have criticized his efforts to use executive power to bypass Congress. This will be the 12th time the president has used his office to designate national monuments, although the first time he does so for ocean areas.

Last month, Obama designated nearly half a million acres in New Mexico as protected. The site included areas used as training sites for the Apollo astronauts, as well as the Butterfield Overland Mail Trail, along which passengers and mail travelled toward San Francisco in the mid-1800s.

In March, Obama designated 1,600 acres of California coastline as a monument.

By contrast, Bush established only four national monuments during his eight years in office.

Obama's accelerated efforts on federal land protection coincide with the return of counselor John Podesta — former chief of staff to President Clinton — to the White House.

After Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, Clinton used his executive authorities to implement environmental protections for federal lands, including seven sites during his last month in office.