President Barack Obama has just announced the expansion of the Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. This action creates the largest protected area in the world and expands the original monument by more than 442,760 square miles (1.15 million square kilometers).
The monument covers an area almost four time as large as California and is a total of 582,578 square miles (1.5 million square kilometers). The monument will serve to protect the coral reefs and underwater habitats home to more than 7,000 species, including rare whales and sea turtles listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Commercial fishing and drilling are prohibited, and the designation also has implications for navigation. Voluntary restrictions on travel through certain areas and a requirement that ships notify the U.S. Coast Guard when they enter or exit the area.
This announcement has been a long time coming and builds on steps taken by six presidents—starting with Theodore Roosevelt and including three Republicans and three Democrats—to conserve the ecosystems and wildlife of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. In 2006, President George W. Bush designated the islands and the surrounding waters a national marine monument, marking the first time a large area of ocean had been set aside for protection in the United States.
At the time, Papah?naumoku?kea was the largest marine reserve in the world. Subsequently, more than a dozen large-scale highly protected marine reserves have been created around the globe, including nine larger than the original Hawaiian monument.
“Papah?naumoku?kea inspired an international movement to safeguard large areas of ocean and create the world’s first generation of great parks in the sea,” said Joshua S. Reichert, an executive vice president at Pew who oversees strategy for its Global Ocean Legacy project. “By expanding the monument, President Obama has increased protections for one of the most biologically and culturally significant places on the planet.” [PEW Environment]