By Matt McGrath
The US plans to create the world’s biggest marine protected area (MPA) in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
The White House will extend an existing protected area, known as the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.
Fishing and drilling would be banned from an area that could eventually cover two million sq km.
The extended zone would double the world’s fully protected marine reserves.
The Pacific Remote Islands Area is controlled by the US and consists of seven scattered islands, atolls and reefs that lie between Hawaii and American Samoa.
Essentially uninhabited, the waters that surround these remote islands are home to a wide range of species including corals, seabirds, sharks and vegetation not found anywhere else in the world.
In 2009, President Bush declared the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, giving the islands the same level of protection as statues or cultural sites.
Now President Obama has signalled that he will extend the area that will be off limits to fishing and mineral exploitation to the limit of US economic control – some 200 nautical miles around the islands.
The White House said the final size of the protected zone would depend on consultations with scientists, fishing and conservation organisations.
The Washington Post reported that this would eventually cover up two million sq km.
“This area contains some of the most pristine tropical marine environment in the world,” said White House senior counsel John Podesta, who made the announcement.
“These tropical coral reefs and associated ecosystems are among the marine environments facing the most serious threat from climate change and ocean acidification.”
Speaking ahead of the announcement, President Obama said that protecting marine areas wasn’t just a good idea for the environment, it made good economic sense as well.
“If we ignore these problems, if we drain our oceans of their resources, we won’t just be squandering one of humanity’s greatest treasures, we will be cutting off one of the worlds major sources of food and economic growth,” he said.