Citing the danger that climate change poses to the oceans, President Obama will establish the largest marine reserve in the world today, protecting nearly 600,000 square miles off the coast of Hawaii.
Commercial fishing , mining and extraction are prohibited in the expanded Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, though subsistence fishing and scientific research will be allowed.
“The oceans are the untold story when it comes to climate change and we have to feel a sense of urgency when it comes to protecting the ocean that sustains us,” said Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii. George W. Bush originally established the reserve a decade ago, protecting 140,000 square miles.
Reef Fish at Rapture Reef
Schools of reef fish at Rapture Reef, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.
Photo credit: James Watt / USFWS
Green Sea Turtles
More than 90 percent of the world’s population of Green Sea Turtles, also known as honu in Hawaiian, nests at the French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. To many Hawaiian people, the green sea turtle is ingrained in their identify and cultural heritage. Despite a decline in population in the 1960s, green sea turtles are making a comeback!
Photo credit: Kydd Pollock / USFWS. Caption courtesy of the National Wildlife Refuge Association.
Hawaiian Monk Seals
The adorable Hawaiian monk seal is actually one of the most endangered seals in the world. Only 1,100 seals remain on the planet and 90 percent of them live around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Threats include entanglement, lack of food sources and climate change.
Photo credit: Andy Collins / NOAA. Caption courtesy of the National Wildlife Refuge Association.
Albatrosses are the largest flying birds on the planet, extremely efficient at flying, and spend over 80% of the time at sea unless they are breeding. During breeding season, males and females form a mating pair that lasts a lifetime. Wisdom, a Laysan Albatross, is the world’s oldest known breeding bird in the wild and lives on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Wisdom, at the young age of 65 years old, returns to Midway every year to Midway to lay her eggs on the largest nesting albatross colony in the world.
Photo credit: Greg Joder. Caption courtesy of the National Wildlife Refuge Association.
The endangered Laysan duck is endemic to Laysan Island and Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Unfortunately in 1993, there was an alarming decline in the population due to severe weather that introduced insects, which depleted food sources for these ducks. Historically, Laysan ducks were found widespread throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Thanks to the great work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey , research and conservation management efforts such as translocations are on-going to increase the population of Laysan ducks throughout the Hawaiian islands.
Caption courtesy of the National Wildlife Refuge Association.
More than 24 species of marine mammals including whales, dolphins and porpoises have been identified in the Hawaiian Islands. Weighing in at 35-4 tons and 50 to 60 feet long, sperm whales are the most abundant. As the star of the famous novel, Moby Dick, sperm whales are the largest of the toothed whales and have the largest brain of any living animal. The expansion of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument would increase and enhance protection of these species graceful animals.
Photo credit: Gerard Sovry. Caption courtesy of the National Wildlife Refuge Association.
Oceanic White-Tip Shark
Oceanic white-tip sharks are the kings of the open ocean. Their noticeably long pectoral fins give these sharks its proper Latin name longimanus meaning “long arms.” These apex predators are migratory, following the warmer climates in the winter months to catch prey. The famous oceanographer, Jacque Cousteau, called oceanic white tips “the most dangerous sharks in the ocean” and they rely on the Hawaiian islands for food.
Photo credit: Joe Romeiro. Caption courtesy of the National Wildlife Refuge Association.
Big Eye Tuna
Big Eye Tuna, also known as ahi , is a highly desired commercial species caught in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The population of big eye tuna has declined due to overharvesting. Expanding the monument will allow the eco-system to thrive, ensure that tuna reach sexual maturity and the protect tuna from overfishing.
Photo credit: ISSF 2012. Caption courtesy of the National Wildlife Refuge Association.
“President Obama’s expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National makes it the largest sanctuary for ocean life in the world,” Greenpeace oceans campaign director John Hocevar said.
“This is a bold decision that will have lasting benefits for Hawaii’s unique ecosystem. Networks of sanctuaries have proven to be powerful tools to ensure the health of our oceans. Setting aside areas closed to fishing, drilling and other extractive uses is the best way to protect biodiversity, rebuild depleted fish populations, and increase the resilience of marine ecosystems so they can better withstand the impacts of climate change.
"Bolder steps are still needed. Less than two percent of the world’s oceans are protected from fishing, and many scientists suggest a target of 40 percent. It is vital that we take steps like President Obama did in Hawaii to prevent future expansion of industrial fisheries, but we also need to look at areas closer to our population centers. Most of the world’s coastal fisheries have been severely depleted. With few limitations on fishing in these areas, recovery is slow. Our coasts are dotted with former fishing communities that are no longer able to find enough fish to sustain their livelihoods.
"Setting aside 40 percent of our marine ecosystems—in remote areas as well as those closer to home—will help preserve the health of our oceans and our communities.”
For a deeper dive: