Photograph by Randy Olson, National Geographic
Michael Boots, chairman of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, made clear that by expanding protected areas, the administration sought to balance the need to preserve a range of marine species with concerns from the fishing industry, which had warned about the economic impact of curtailing deep-sea fishing areas.
“We thought [the monument decision] was a good way to balance what the science was telling us was important to protect and the needs of those who use the area,” Boots said.
The expanded monument will help ensure that “there are some places that are as pristine as possible for as long as possible,” Norse said. “I think a hundred years from now, people will be praising Barack Obama for having the vision to protect the Pacific remote islands.”
Democratic and Republican presidents going all the way back to Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican who served from 1901 to 1909, have used the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate national monuments. The law requires simply that an area be unique and considered worthy of protection for future generations. This is the 12th time Obama has used his authority under the Antiquities Act to protect environmental areas.
The area being protected by the administration will expand the protected areas from 50 miles offshore to 200 miles offshore around three areas—Wake Island, Johnston Atoll, and Jarvis Island—the maximum reach of the United States’ exclusive economic zone. The current 50-mile offshore protections around the Howland and Baker islands, and Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll, will not change.
Enforcing fishing bans in the monument will be a big challenge, Kerry acknowledged. “Agreements won’t matter if no one is enforcing them,” he said. “It’s going to take training and resources.”
Kerry said one measure that could help deter illegal fishing in the region, as well as around the world, would be to implement the Port State Measures Agreement, an international treaty that requires member nations to prevent illegally caught fish from entering the market. Eleven nations or parties have ratified the agreement, but a total of 25 must sign before the treaty will take effect.
“Our goal is to get this done this year,” Kerry said.