Posted at 10:45 AM
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today applauded President Obama’s action to use his executive authority under the Antiquities Act and expand the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument – making it the largest marine protected area on Earth.
The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands were originally protected by President Teddy Roosevelt who established the Hawaiian Islands Bird Reservation in 1909. President Franklin D. Roosevelt broadened the protections to all wildlife and formed the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge in 1940. And in 2006 President George W. Bush created Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to protect and preserve the marine waters and their wildlife and historic, cultural and scientific riches. Today’s designation will expand the existing Marine National Monument by 442,781 square miles, bringing the total protected area to 582,578 square miles.
The monument expansion comes after significant engagement with the Native Hawaiian community, the fishing industry, and residents of the islands.
“Today’s historic action ensures the ongoing conservation of this iconic landmark. Throughout this process, we’ve collaborated with a number of stakeholders, including Native Hawaiians, state and local officials, community leaders, and fishermen,” said Secretary Pritzker. “The Department is committed to protecting ecosystems like the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument for future generations, and we are working with commercial fishermen to safeguard the continued economic vibrancy of this industry. We are truly indebted to the leadership of Senator Schatz and other local officials in advancing this proposal.”
“The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are home to one of the most diverse and threatened ecosystems on the planet and a sacred place for the Native Hawaiian community,” said Secretary Jewell. “President Obama’s expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument will permanently protect pristine coral reefs, deep sea marine habitats and important cultural and historic resources for the benefit of current and future generations.”
Additionally today, Secretaries Pritzker and Jewell also announced their intent to draft a new agreement making the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) a co-trustee in managing the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. In the past 10 years, the Departments have forged a strong partnership with the State of Hawaii in managing the monument, including benefiting greatly from the cultural perspective that OHA has provided. U.S. Senator Schatz, Governor Ige, and others have been vocal in their support for making OHA a co-trustee.
The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which is part of the most remote island archipelago on Earth, supports a dynamic reef ecosystem with more than 7,000 marine species, of which approximately one quarter is unique to the Hawaiian Islands. This diverse ecosystem is home to many species of coral, fish, birds, and marine mammals and other flora and fauna, including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, three endangered whale species, and the endangered leatherback and hawksbill sea turtles.
Its biological and geographic isolation, coupled with singular oceanographic and geological conditions, have produced some of the most unique and diverse ecological communities on the planet. Important geological features of the expansion include more than 75 seamounts, as well as a non-volcanic ridge that extends southwest towards the Johnston Atoll. Together, these features form biodiverse hotspots in the open ocean that provide habitat for deep-sea species, including sponges, other invertebrates, fish and colonies of corals many thousands of years old.
In addition, this area has great cultural significance to the Native Hawaiian community, including creation and settlement stories, and a connection to early Polynesian culture and is used to practice important activities like traditional long-distance voyaging and wayfinding.
In recent years, technological advances have spurred new scientific findings, greatly increasing our understanding of the areas adjacent to the original monument. New satellite technology allows scientists and researchers to ‘see’ the topography of the seafloor and can track individual animals, such as whales and seals, providing a better understanding of foraging and migration patterns. Ship-based sonar can show not only the relief of the ocean bottom, but also what types of habitat exist in these extremely deep locations. Undersea vehicles venture to the ocean depths and send back video of never-before-seen species. This increased understanding – and appreciation – of deep sea habitats and their role in the larger ocean ecosystem, is the fundamental reason for expanding the boundaries of the original monument.
Additionally, the monument area contains several shipwrecks – including the USS Yorktown and several Japanese vessels – and downed aircraft from the Battle of Midway in World War II, marking a final resting place for the more than 3,000 individuals. This announcement comes in advance of the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway next year.
Commercial fishing and other resource extraction activities, which are currently prohibited in the boundaries of the existing monument, are also prohibited within the expanded monument boundaries. Noncommercial fishing, such as recreational fishing and the removal of fish and other resources for Native Hawaiian cultural practices, is allowed in the expansion area by permit, as is scientific research.
Today’s announcement is made by the President under the authority of the Antiquities Act, an authority exercised by 16 presidents starting with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 and used to protect treasures such as the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty, and Colorado’s Canyons of the Ancients. Altogether, President Obama has protected hundreds of millions of acres of public lands and waters – more than any other President – and has preserved sites that help tell the story of significant people and extraordinary events in American history.