WASHINGTON, DC, August 27, 2016 (ENS) – President Barack Obama Friday expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument surrounding the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, creating the world’s largest marine protected area.

The designation quadruples the size of the existing marine monument, originally created in 2006 by President George W. Bush and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.


Dolphins near Midway Atoll in the world’s largest marine protected area (Photo by Kris Krug)

Obama’s designation extends the existing Marine National Monument by 442,781 square miles, bringing the total protected area of the expanded monument to 582,578 square miles.

The expansion provides protections for more than 7,000 marine species, including whales and sea turtles listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the longest-living marine species in the world, black coral, which can live longer than 4,500 years.

New scientific exploration and research has revealed new species and deep sea habitats as well as important ecological connections between the existing monument and the adjacent waters.

In his official proclamation, President Obama declared, “It is in the public interest to preserve the marine environment.”

All commercial extraction, such as fishing and deep-sea mining, will be prohibited in the expanded monument area. Recreational fishing, removal of resources for traditional Hawaiian cultural purposes and scientific research will be allowed with a federal permit.

Obama will feature his action in an address Wednesday to the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, which is being hosted in the United States for the first time.

On Thursday, the President will travel to Midway Atoll, located within the original Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, to mark the significance of this designation. He will draw attention to the threat of climate change which he believes makes protecting public lands and waters more important than ever.

As ocean acidification, warming, and other impacts of climate change threaten marine ecosystems, expanding the monument will improve ocean resilience, help the region’s distinct physical and biological resources adapt, and create a natural laboratory that will allow scientists to monitor and explore the impacts of climate change on these fragile ecosystems.

Hawaii’s Governor, David Ige, Wednesday sent a letter of support for the expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument to the President.

“There has been a tremendous debate locally on this issue, and I have met with both proponents and opponents listening closely to the concerns of both. While the expansion to the 200-mile EEZ boundary will present some challenges in the short term, it carefully balances the very real human needs of today with the future health of the ecosystem that sustains life in these precious Hawaiian Islands,” wrote Governor Ige.

“Mahalo to your administration for taking the time to conduct direct meetings and public forums to hear from the public, even though this proposal involves only federal waters and does not impact state jurisdiction,” the governor wrote. “Doing things the right way for the right reasons leads to better decisions, and I know the input of fishers, Hawaiian cultural practitioners, scientists, conservationists and others interested in the proposal strengthened it.”

Governor Ige wrote, “You may be familiar with the Hawaiian proverb, E ota ke kai, e ota käkou – As the ocean thrives, so do we. This proposal strikes the right balance at this time for the waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands, and it can be a model for sustainability in the other oceans of planet Earth.”


Slate pencil urchin in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (Photo courtesy NOAA)

The expanded monument area contains resources of great historical and cultural significance. The expanded area, including the archipelago and its adjacent waters, is considered sacred by the Native Hawaiian community.

Native Hawaiian creation and settlement stories are set there, and the area is used to practice traditional long-distance voyaging and wayfinding.

In recognition of the value of Papahānaumokuākea to Native Hawaiians, and in keeping with President Obama’s commitment to elevating the voices of Native peoples in resource management, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced that their departments will soon sign an agreement with Hawaii’s Department of Natural Resources and Office of Hawaiian Affairs providing for a greater management role as a trustee in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, an arrangement requested by Senator Brian Schatz and Governor David Ige.

President Obama’s designation responds to a proposal put forward by Senator Schatz and Native Hawaiian leaders, in addition to significant input and local support from Hawaii elected officials, cultural groups, conservation organizations, scientists and fishermen.

This step also builds on a tradition of marine protection in Hawaiian waters and world-class, well managed fisheries, including a longline fishing fleet that the White House says is a global leader in sustainable practices.

In addition to protecting more lands and waters than any administration in history, President Obama has sought to lead the world in marine conservation by combating illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, revitalizing the process for establishing new marine sanctuaries, establishing the National Ocean Policy, and promoting ocean stewardship through the use of science-based decision making.

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