Energy & Environment

Obama creates world’s largest ocean reserve off Hawaiian coast

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President Obama on Friday morning created a massive national monument off the coast of his native Hawaii, the world’s largest protected area.

The declaration expands more than threefold the size of the Papahānaumokuāke Marine National Monument, surrounding the outlying northwestern Hawaiian islands.

{mosads}The move in Obama’s final months further cements his legacy of using unilateral executive authority to protect far more land and water as national monuments than any other president.

“The expansion provides critical protections for more than 7,000 marine species, including whales and sea turtles listed under the Endangered Species Act and the longest-living marine species in the world — black coral, which have been found to live longer than 4,500 years,” the White House said early Friday morning.

Former President George W. Bush created the original national monument a decade ago. In 2010, UNESCO declared the area a world heritage site.

The expansion increases the size of the reserve to more than 582,000 square miles, more than 50 times the size of the Hawaiian Islands themselves.

The designation indefinitely stops any mineral extraction or commercial fishing. It has support among Hawaii leaders and native interests, though the state’s fishing industry has vociferously fought the proposal.

The White House said Obama will travel next week to Midway Atoll, within the monument area, to speak about the new designation.

The announcement came two days after Obama created a massive new national monument in Maine’s north woods.

The boundaries for the protected area, along with rules allowing some recreational fishing, research and education there, were proposed by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).

“This is one of the most important actions an American president has ever taken for the health of the oceans,” Schatz said in a statement. “Expanding Papahanaumokuakea will replenish stocks of ‘ahi, promote biodiversity, fight climate change, and give a greater voice to Native Hawaiians in managing this resource.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) also praised Obama.

“President Obama’s efforts to enhance protections for our ocean ecosystem will help to combat climate change, preserve biodiversity, and honor cultural traditions,” she said. “As part of his announcement, I appreciate the President’s recognition of the importance of commercial fishing to Hawaii’s way of life and our shared goal of supporting Hawaii’s sustainable pelagic fisheries.”

But there are Hawaiian leaders who oppose the new monument, saying it will be destructive for fishing.

“The ocean belongs to us,” former Gov. George Ariyoshi (D) said last month at a fishing industry rally in opposition last month, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

“We ought to be the ones who decide what kind of use to make of the ocean,” he said. “And we don’t want someone from the outside to come, or people from the outside to come, and tell us how to live with the ocean.”

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