Obama expands protected waters off Hawaii, creating world’s largest reserve
WASHINGTON — President Obama will use his power to designate national monuments on Friday to create the world’s largest protected marine area off the coast of Hawaii, the White House said.
Obama will more than quadruple the size of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, to 582.578 square miles — more than 50 times larger than the land area of the Hawaiian Islands themselves.
The White House also announced that Obama would travel to the region next week, visiting the landmark Midway Atoll at the western edge of the area to address the threat of climate change and the importance of protecting public lands and waters. He’ll also visit his native Hawaii to take part in a conference of Pacific Island leaders and a world conservation conference in Honolulu. From there, he’s scheduled to attend a summit of the Group of 20 world leaders in China.
Friday’s action will permanently protect coral reefs and underwater habitats home to more than 7,000 species, including rare whales and sea turtles listed under theEndangered Species Act. Commercial fishing and drilling are prohibited, and the designation also has implications for navigation, with voluntary restrictions on travel through certain areas and a requirement that ships notify the U.S. Coast Guardwhen they enter or exit the area.
The monument was first designated by President George W. Bush in 2006 as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, and later renamed in honor of Papahanaumoku and Wakea, the husband-and-wife Hawaiian gods of earth and sky. Bush’s proclamation first designated 139,800 square miles. Obama’s action expands the area all the way to the western edge of U.S. territorial waters.
UNESCO designated the area a world heritage site in 2010. In addition to its environmental, geologic and scientific value, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization cited the “deep cosmological and traditional significance for living Native Hawaiian culture.”
Midway, where Obama will visit Thursday, includes two of its own protected areas, the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and the Battle of Midway National Memorial.
The area is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Hawaii. But the White House said the federal government would sign an agreement to give Hawaii more control over the area.
Only Congress can create new national parks. But under the 1906 Antiquities Act, the president can designate sites as national monuments, giving them many of the same protections. And Obama has used that authority more than any president in history.
Earlier this week, Obama used the power to overcome congressional opposition to a National Park in northern Maine, designating 87,500 acres of forest as the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Thursday marked the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.