Obama creates world’s largest marine reserve

On Thursday 25th September, president Obama vastly expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM) to six times its current size, creating the largest marine reserve in the world.

Under the new designation, the monument will reach out to the maximum area within the United States’ exclusive economic zone around three remote islands and atolls in the South-Central Pacific Ocean. This enlarges the monument’s area to 490,000 square miles.

President Bush originally established the monument in 2009. It was announced in June 2014 that Obama planned to expand the protected area. The decision was made in response to unprecedented levels of ocean acidification, where rising carbon dioxide levels have caused the oceans to become increasingly acidic. The effect on calcified marine life is widely documented. For example, some species of coral have had difficulties in secreting calcium carbonate skeletons, severely impacting coral reef ecosystems, which are already threatened by multiple anthropogenic impacts.

Under the new designation, resource extraction activities including commercial fishing and deep sea mining are prohibited. The newly protected area is a highly pristine open ocean, deep sea ecosystem. The area is home to numerous seamounts which are biodiversity hotspots to thriving colonies of endemic and endangered marine organisms including cetaceans, turtles, corals, sharks, fish and seabirds. Expanding the monument will provide added protection to one of the most vulnerable marine ecosystems to climate change. The huge sanctuary will allow marine species time to recover from the culmination of anthropogenic stressors.

However, the result is significantly smaller than the original, ambitious proposal which would have enlarged the area to the fullest amount possible to approximately 782,000 square miles of no-take zones compared to the 490,000. In order to limit any economic impact, fishing for tuna is allowed in waters around the islands of Howland, Baker, Jarvis, Palmyra and Kingman Reef. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) figures show these areas yield less than 4% of their total catch. Whilst the new proclamation is a reduced version of the principal proposal, it highlights solid presidential action from Obama and a huge step forward in marine conservation.

Photo credit: U.S Fish and Wildlife Service

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Lucy Grable

Lucy Grable

MSc Species Identification and Survey Skills student at Reading Uni | BSc Marine Zoology | Website Editor MARINElife | Zanzibar humpback whale researcher|Marine wildlife enthusiast

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