The Obama administration announced Thursday that it will create the largest marine reserve in the world by expanding an existing monument around U.S.-controlled islands and atolls in the central Pacific.
The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument will now be nearly 490,000 square miles, nearly three times the size of California and six times larger than its previous size. Commercial fishing, dumping, and mining will be prohibited in the reserve, but recreational fishing will be allowed with permits, and boaters may visit the area.
The protected area that Secretary of State John Kerry announced this morning is actually smaller than the 782,000 square miles that the president initially considered. But environmentalists, preservationists, and conservation groups that had pushed for the expansion called President Barack Obama’s designation a historic victory in their efforts to limit the impact of fishing, drilling, and other activities that threaten some of the world’s most species-rich waters.
“What has happened is extraordinary. It is history making. There is a lot of reason we should be celebrating right now,” said Elliott Norse, founder and chief scientist of the Seattle-based Marine Conservation Institute.
Enric Sala, an ocean scientist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, called the newly expanded monument “a great example of marine protection.”
During the past several years, Sala and National Geographic’s Pristine Seas project—which aims to explore, survey, and protect several of the last wild places in the world’s oceans—have been key players in expeditions to the region that helped to put a spotlight on its biodiversity. Sala also met with White House officials to make the scientific case for expanding the Pacific Remote Islands monument.