Expansion of US marine protected zone could double world reserves

Jun 18, 2014

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.

Rare species

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.”

Financial incentives

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.

9 comments on “Expansion of US marine protected zone could double world reserves

  • Go USA!

    In my view, setting up reserves is the best way to protect the environment and everything in it. There’s clarity of purpose, no wriggle-room, no back-sliding, very little cost and maximum benefit.

    We just have to hope that the mess created outside the reserves doesn’t have too bad an effect inside the reserves.

    World Park Antarctica which I remember campaigning for 30 years ago is a perfect illustration. World Park Antarctica, though was an international agreement and I think is up for renewal sometime in the 2040s. That will be a battle for some of you younger folks.

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  • In the context of seas being over-fished and ecosystems destroyed, this is excellent news IF IT IS ENFORCED.

    Various studies have shown, that the areas around protected “no-take-zones”, benefit from regeneration and restocking with breading stock, expanding out from the protected areas to repopulate the surrounding ones.

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  • Looking at a map of the North Atlantic, overlayed with the AIS marine vessel identification plots, the exclusion zone is instantly apparent. The zone is outlined by the swarms of the black dots of fishing boats, like flies around the edge of a sugar bowl.

    They stop at the edge of the zone, cleary showing its limit.

    The fish, unfortunately, are unaware of this “fence” and have to swim through the assembled mass of boats to reach their haven.

    The arbitrary drawing of lines in the ocean does not, by itself, constitute a solution.

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  • Hi JC Sheepdog,

    Can you give me a few more details about what you are looking at in the North Atlantic? Presumably this is not anything to do with the proposed new marine reserve, which will be in the Pacific.

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  • if it is enforced

    Very true. We all know land reserves in SE Asia, S America and Africa are regularly exploited and parts destroyed, but with marine reserves it is harder to hide if you are illegally fishing. So fingers crossed.

    BTW Thanks for answering the question in Converts Corner – I knew you would be up to the job.


    PS I don’t like the new quotes formating.

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  • GPWC Jun 19, 2014 at 4:52 am

    Can you give me a few more details about what you are looking at in the North Atlantic?

    I can give some very local examples of Marine Protected Areas in the North Atlantic, which illustrate some of the political problems arising from conflicts of interest. The 13 page link gives considerable coverage of Spanish practical examples.


    A governability problem with regard to MPAs is that no single
    image is shared by all stakeholders. Whether marine eco-
    systems should embrace human and social dimensions is
    still not evident to everyone, even to scientists, as it would
    require a more interdisciplinary science than that currently
    utilized (Steppet al.2003; Teh and Teh2011; Thorpe et al. 2011a).
    Like other governance arrangements, MPAs have a ‘stepzero’ when the idea is first conveyed, impressions are formed, and goals are formulated Chuenpagdee and Jentoft 2007; Jentoft et al. 2011
    ). Images and the meaning they convey“ is never an exclusively individual activity” but“ constructed by individuals in social settings”(Shore 1996:250). Stakeholders may have acquired images of MPAs from the media, from following discourse about resource management, from seeing them implemented at other locations, or from listening to their peers. Their particular experiences and interests in the marine ecosystem are also likely to play an important role.

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  • As I commented @1 – In the context of seas being over-fished and ecosystems destroyed, this is excellent news IF IT IS ENFORCED.

    Politicians are quick to claim conservation measures but often very tardy in delivering on promises!

    MPs say UK government ‘too slow’ on marine conservation

    Last year, the government designated 27 marine conservation zones in the UK, while a further 37 zones could be designated by the end of 2015.

    However, 127 areas are recommended for protection and the Environmental Audit Committee criticised a “lack of government commitment” on the issue.

    The government said it was doing “more than ever” to protect marine habitats.

    “This slow pace has been disappointing and suggests a lack of government commitment to this initiative”, the parliamentary committee said in the report.

    She said the government had been “too slow in creating these zones and it has failed to get coastal communities and fishermen on board”.

    “It is now well over four years since the launch of the programme, yet only 27 of the 127 sites recommended by independent project groups have been designated.

    “The government must stop trying to water down its pledge to protect our seas and move much more quickly to establish further protection zones and ensure they can be enforced.”

    Some will recall a pre-election “Greenest government ever” manifesto claim, from David “get-on-board-with-gas-fracking” Cameron. – Cutting tidal power research, and subsidising oil drilling!

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  • @GWPC
    Sorry for taking so long to get back to you. The link I had is eluding me. The one here is as close as I can find, and I will keep looking.
    This is an NASA plot using the same AIS system in plotting the South Atlantic legal and illegal squid fishery.
    The North Atlantic plot to which I referred showed the exclusion zone clearly marked by the fishing vessels clustered exactly along its borders.

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