President Obama announced plans to create the world’s largest ocean sanctuary on Tuesday, expanding 87,000 square miles of protected ocean into 782,000 square miles of protected ocean–a nearly ninefold increase.
According to Fox News, Obama is proposing an expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, to “protect it from drilling, fishing, and other actions.” Obama made his remarks via a video message at a State Department “oceans conference,” which actor Leonardo DiCaprio also attended as a featured speaker.
The president’s plan will likely be opposed by tuna fishing companies operating in the region and lawmakers concerned about the continued use of the president’s executive power.
“For years the Obama administration has threatened to impose ocean zoning to shut down our oceans, and today the President is making good on his threat,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings said in a statement. “This is yet another example of how an imperial president is intent on taking unilateral action, behind closed doors, to impose new regulations and layers of restrictive red-tape.”
The president’s plan could also virtually eliminate tuna fishing operations in the region. Rep. Hastings added that the plans would “likely make the U.S. tuna fleet even less viable, meaning that in the not-too-distant future all of America’s tuna will be caught by foreign vessels.”
The Washington Post notes that the original 87,000 square mile preserve was created by President George W. Bush just before he left office. However, Bush exempted fishing operations from restrictions as a way to ease opposition to the preserve.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reportedly said on Monday that the U.S. needs to step up immediately to protect the world’s oceans.
“If this group can’t create a serious plan to protect the ocean for future generations, then who can and who will?” he asked.
According to the Post, the protected ocean would “provide shelter for nearly two dozen species of marine mammals, five types of threatened sea turtles, and a variety of sharks and other predatory fish species.”
Former U.S. defense secretary and Joint Ocean Commission Initiative co-founder Leon Panetta told the Post that the Obama administration has had a tough time getting around to ocean policy in light of other world events.
“When the president is besieged by the problems as this administration has faced, it’s tough to keep your focus on ocean policy,” he said. “That’s the problem – you just can’t afford to put oceans on the back burner.”