President Obama on Tuesday will announce his intention to put a large section of the central Pacific Ocean under marine protection as part of the two-day Our Oceans conference hosted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
People from around 80 countries have gathered for a combined crash course and call to arms on the numerous problems facing the world’s oceans, with a focus on over-fishing, pollution, and ocean acidification caused by rising carbon dioxide emissions.
At the start of the conference, Kerry said humans had caused “enormous damage” to the ocean, but that “governments, individuals and communities can act now to reverse these trends. We can protect the ocean if we all start treating it like our ocean.”
The United States controls more than 13 percent of the ocean area overseen by countries — the most of any government. Only China consumes more seafood.
Obama’s proposal will look to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument from almost 87,000 square miles to nearly 782,000 square miles by using seven islands and atolls controlled by the United States. Established by President George W. Bush in 2008, the Monument currently encompasses the ocean out to about 50 miles from the shores of small, uninhabited U.S. territories in the south Pacific. President Obama’s proposal would push the boundaries out to the full 200-mile extent of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone. The action will increase the monument’s size by roughly a factor of 10, and more than double the total amount of the world’s oceans contained in protected areas.
“These tiny, remote Pacific islands and atolls were some of the last places on the planet to feel the weight of human feet. Today’s bold action by the President will minimize the future impact of the footprint of human activity on some of the world’s most pristine and resilient ocean ecosystems,” said Michael Conathan, Director of Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress.
The most pressing issue being addressed at the conference is the steep decline in fisheries, which threatens the food security of billions of people. Around a third of the world’s marine fisheries are over-exploited and more than half need assistance avoiding decline.
Marine pollution generated by human activities has led to the creation of vast garbage patches focused around large, rotating ocean gyres.
A recent report from the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership and the University of Cambridge found that the global fishing industry is poised to lose $17 to $41 billion by 2050 due to climate change’s effects on the marine environment. Ocean acidification and warming waters cause a number of challenges to the seafood industry and marine life in general.
At the conference, Kiribati’s President Anote Tong announced intentions to close the Phoenix Island Protected Area to all fishing by the end of the year. The Phoenix Island Protected Area, one of the largest marine protected areas in the world, is about the size of California. It is extremely biologically diverse and currently intensely fished.
“Healthy, vibrant ocean ecosystems are proven to be more resilient to climate change and acidification than degraded ones,” said Conathan. “This action represents the last, best hope for some of our most remote and delicate natural wonders.”