The new reserve, an enlargement of the existing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, nearly quadruples the total amount of US ocean territory that’s protected from commercial fishing, oil drilling, and other activities.
Previously, the monument — a cluster of reserves surrounding seven uninhabited islands south and west of Hawaii — covered about 86,888 square miles. The new monument will cover nearly 490,000 square miles in total, with the gains coming from extending the borders to 200 miles off the coasts of Wake Island, Jarvis Island, and Johnston Atoll. This is as far as the US government is permitted to protect, according to international law.
Despite the huge gains, though, the new monument is considerably smaller than the one Obama originally proposed in July, which would have been 782,000 square miles, and extended the protected zone around four other islands as well. Opposition from the commercial tuna fishing industry during the public comment period led to the shrinkage.
At the moment, there’s no drilling and not that much fishing in the newly protected area — so the reserve won’t be hugely impactful at the start. Still, it’s a big step forward in proactively protecting marine habitats on a massive scale. [Continue reading…]