Obama to declare world's largest marine sanctuary in Pacific

President Obama will declare a large swath of the Pacific Ocean off-limits to fishing and energy exploration on Thursday.

Obama will sign a proclamation Thursday expanding protections for the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument into the largest marine reserve in the world, according to a White House fact sheet.

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This is the biggest move yet by Obama to protect the oceans, and will declare a sanctuary six times the monument's current size.

The administration first announced Obama's plan to expand protections for the waters surrounding seven U.S.-controlled tropical islands and atolls in the south-central Pacific Ocean in June.

It said it would seek input from fishers, scientists, conservation experts and lawmakers before making a final decision on the scope of the protections.

Sticking to the plan announced in June, Obama will move to protect a total of 490,000 square miles in Thursday's declaration.

In a fact sheet released Wednesday evening, the administration cited rising sea levels and warmer ocean temperatures caused by climate change as the basis for Obama's decision to protect "some of our most precious marine landscape."

"The Administration identified expanding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument as an area of particular interest because science has shown that large marine protected areas can help rebuild biodiversity, support fish populations, and improve overall ecosystem resilience," the White House said.

The new protections will include more than 130 biodiversity hotspots that are home to a number of "unique" marine species.

Vulnerable sea turtles, marine mammals and manta rays will also be protected under the expansion.

While commercial fishing and energy extraction operations are banned within the sanctuary, the monument will still be open to "traditional and recreational fishing" that abides by conservation goals, according to the White House fact sheet.