US President Obama proposes 2 million-sq km no-take area in Pacific

MPA News

On 17 June, US President Barack Obama proposed a significant expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which currently covers 225,000 km2 around multiple US-governed islands and atolls in the south-central Pacific (Howland, Baker, and Jarvis Islands; Johnston, Wake, and Palmyra Atolls; and Kingman Reef).

The plan would involve expanding the MPA to roughly 2 million km2 (782,000 sq miles), which could make it the largest MPA and largest area off-limits to commercial fishing in the world. The expansion would move the MPA's boundaries seaward from each of the islands and atolls: instead of 50 nm from shore, the boundaries would be 200 nm. The enlarged area would encompass more than 200 seamounts that are in nearly pristine condition.

The Pacific Remote Islands monument is currently off-limits to commercial fishing and that ban would continue under Obama's expansion proposal. Recreational fishing is permitted inside the monument, although it is rare due to the MPA's remoteness (www.fpir.noaa.gov/SFD/pdfs/Compliance_Guide_Monuments_Fishing_8-1-13.pdf).

Obama's proposal is now slated to undergo a public comment period, after which the geographic scope and regulations of the expanded MPA could change. The President does not need approval from Congress for the expansion. He would declare it under his executive power to designate national monuments. Former President George W. Bush used his executive power to designate the current MPA in 2009 (MPA News 10:7).

In May 2014, scientists from Marine Conservation Institute (a US-based NGO), the National Geographic Society, and the University of Hawaii delivered a report to the Obama Administration laying out a scientific basis for expanding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (www.marine-conservation.org/media/filer_public/filer_public/2014/06/17/primnm_expansion_report.pdf). Marine Conservation Institute was also instrumental in former President Bush's designation of the current MPA five years ago.

The Obama Administration fact sheet on the expansion proposal is at www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/06/17/fact-sheet-leading-home-and-internationally-protect-our-ocean-and-coasts.