WASHINGTON — The White House says that President Barack Obama will expand a national monument off the coast of Hawaii, creating the world’s largest marine protected area.
Obama’s proclamation will quadruple in size a monument originally created by President George W. Bush in 2006. The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument will contain some 582,578 square miles, more than twice the size of Texas.
Obama will travel to the monument next week to mark the designation and cite the need to protect public lands and waters from climate change.
Hawaii’s elected leaders praised the move.
“This is one of the most important actions an American president has ever taken for the health of the oceans,” said Sen. Brian Schatz. “Expanding Papahanaumokuakea will replenish stocks of ‘ahi, promote biodiversity, fight climate change, and give a greater voice to Native Hawaiians in managing this resource.”
Sen. Mazie K. Hirono thanked the president for taking the important step to be a global leader in protecting ocean resources.
“As part of his announcement, I appreciate the president’s recognition of the importance of commercial fishing to Hawaii’s way of life and our shared goal of supporting Hawaii’s sustainable pelagic fisheries,” she said.
The designation bans commercial fishing and any new mining, as is the case within the existing monument. Recreational fishing will be allowed through a permit, as will be scientific research and the removal of fish and other resources for Native Hawaiian cultural practices. Some fishing groups have voiced concerns about what an expansion of the marine national monument would mean for their industry.
The White House is describing the expansion as helping to protect more than 7,000 species and improving the resiliency of an ecosystem dealing with ocean acidification and warming. A fact sheet previewing the announcement states that the expanded area is considered a sacred place for Native Hawaiians.
Shipwrecks and downed aircraft from the Battle of Midway in World War II dot the expansion area. The battle marked a major shift in the war. Obama will travel to the Midway Atoll to discuss the expansion.
With the announcement, Obama will have created or expanded 26 national monuments. The administration said Obama has protected more acreage through national monument designations than any other president.
The White House said the expansion is a response to a proposal from Schatz and prominent Native Hawaiian leaders. The federal government will also give Hawaii’s Department of Natural Resources and Office of Hawaiian Affairs a greater role in managing the monument, an arrangement requested by Schatz and Gov. David Ige.
Kamana‘opono Crabbe, chief executive officer with OHA, said he applauded President Obama’s decision to elevate the voice of Native Hawaiians in the management of the lands and waters in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
“Papahanaumokuakea is critical to Native Hawaiian spiritual well-being, and this action by the president helps revive our connection to our kupuna islands and reinforce our understanding of Hawaii as a contiguous spiritual and cultural seascape.”