March 24, 2018

Obama to create world’s largest protected marine area off Hawaii

A Hawaiian Pigfish in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Photograph: Richard Pyle/Bishop Museum/NOAA/AP

Barack Obama is to create the world’s largest protected marine area off the coast of Hawaii, the White House has said.

The president’s proclamation will quadruple the size of a protected area originally designated by his predecessor, George Bush, in 2006. The expanded Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument will cover around 582,578 sq miles (1.5m sq km), more than twice the size of Texas.

Obama will travel to Hawaii next week to mark the designation and cite the need to protect public lands and waters from climate change.

The designation bans commercial fishing and any new mining, as is the case within the existing area. Recreational fishing will be allowed with a permit, as will scientific research and the removal of fish and other resources for native Hawaiian cultural practices.

Some fishing groups have said they are concerned about the affect of the expansion on their industry. Sean Martin, the president of the Hawaii Longline Association, said he was disappointed by the decision of Hawaii’s governor, David Ige, to support the move, claiming it was based on political, not scientific reasons.

Hawaii’s longline fishing fleet supplies a large portion of the fresh tuna and other fish consumed in Hawaii. Martin has previously estimated the fleet catches about 2m lbs (900,000kg) of fish annually from the proposed expansion area.

The White House said the expansion would help protect more than 7,000 species and improve the resilience of an ecosystem dealing with ocean acidification and warming. A fact sheet previewing the announcement states that the expanded area is considered a sacred place for native Hawaiians.

Shipwrecks and downed aircraft from the Battle of Midway in the second world war dot the expansion area. The battle marked a major shift in the war. Obama will travel to the Midway atoll to discuss the expansion.

With this decision, Obama will have created or expanded 26 US national monuments. The administration said Obama had protected more acreage through national monument designations than any other president.

The White House said the expansion was a response to a proposal from the Democratic senator Brian Schatz and prominent native Hawaiian leaders.

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