PRESIDENT OBAMA GIVES SOME PRETTY SWEET birthday presents. This week is the 100th anniversary of the creation of the National Parks Service. So in honor of the occasion, the President has created the largest protected place on the planet. President Bush created the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument back in 2006, and the move by Obama just quadrupled its size.
The monument covers a vast stretch of land and sea in what is called the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. Most of us are familiar with the Southeast Hawaiian Islands — this includes the Big Island, Maui, Oahu, and Kauai — but the Northwest Islands continue 1,200 miles past that, covering a vast swath of the Pacific. Obama’s expansion on the monument now means it is protected 50 nautical miles in every direction from shore. That adds up to roughly 583,000 square miles — larger than the nation of Peru.
This isolated archipelago is one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet. It’s got one of the largest sea bird populations on the planet, as well as a ton of seals, turtles, and, of course, fish. All of these are under threat as a result of climate change and overfishing. So the expansion of the monument means that all future deep-sea extraction or mining of natural resources in the area is banned, as is commercial fishing — though some recreational fishing will still be allowed.
With this move, President Obama has created more than double the amount of protected lands than any of his predecessors since the Antiquities Act was passed in 1906. And none too soon — the effects of overfishing and climate change are harming ocean ecosystems all over the world. Protecting our wild places is more important than it has ever been.