President Obama has recently announced (also see this GFBF post) his intention to make a broad swath of the central Pacific Ocean off-limits to fishing, energy exploration and other activities according to the Washington Post.
President Obama and actor Leonardo DiCaprio pledged Tuesday to help protect the ocean and challenged other nations to undertake bold initiatives of their own before it’s too late.
Speaking via video at a State Department conference, Obama stressed that the sea is more than an alluring landscape — it’s also a source of food and economic growth. Climate change, overfishing and pollution now threaten to degrade that resource, the president said. “We cannot afford to let that happen,” he said. “That’s why the United States is leading the fight to protect our oceans.”
DiCaprio (at the same conference), advised that Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation would spend $7 million over the next two years on marine conservation supporting nations that are expanding marine reserves, as well as other initiatives. He noted that he had “witnessed environmental devastation firsthand” as he had gone diving in regions across the world, and urged global leaders to be more ambitious.
“This isn’t simply an exercise in wildlife conservation… If we don’t do something to save the ocean now, it won’t be just the sharks and the dolphins that suffer. It will be our children and our grandchildren.”
DiCaprio noted that his first charitable donation was to a group that protected endangered manatees in Florida, adding that he had revered the sea ever since he was young. “Before I wanted to become an actor, I dreamt of becoming a marine biologist” he said.
According to the White House, the Pacific Ocean area:
“Contains some of the most pristine tropical marine environments in the world, [which are] also among the most vulnerable areas to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.”
The Washington Post reported that he plans to use his executive authority to expand the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument, a grouping of seven islands and atolls in the south-central Pacific Ocean. This proposal, said to go into effect later this year after a consultation period, proposes to expand US Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument would be expanded from almost 87,000 square miles to nearly 782,000 square miles — all of it adjacent to seven islands and atolls controlled by the United States. The designation would include waters up to 200 nautical miles offshore from the territories.
This initiative could in effect create the world’s largest marine sanctuary and double the area of ocean globally that is fully protected.
Furthermore this proposed conservation initiative is consistent with the National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan, and is therefore unlikely to trigger any legal need for congressional approval. The initiative does not create new regulations, supersede current regulations, or modify any agency’s established mission, jurisdiction or authority. It doesn’t redirect congressionally-appropriated funds, or direct agencies to divert funds from existing programs.
On the contrary the initiative (like the Implementation Plan) “improves interagency collaboration and prioritization to help focus limited resources and use taxpayer dollars more efficiently.”The rationale behind the proposed conservation initiative (according to the Washington Post) is as follows:
- With marine reserves, bigger is often better. Many scientists–such as Lance Morgan and Elliott Norse of the Redmond, Wash.-based Marine Conservation Institute–argue that the ecological benefits expand exponentially when sanctuaries are enlarged, both because they allow species to move freely and because they are easier to enforce.
- Underwater Topographical Features (UTFs) matter. Seamounts— mountains (above 1,000m in elevation) that lie beneath the ocean’s surface–can be hotspots of biodiversity. There are anywhere between 40 to 51 in the current protected area, and that number could increase if the president extends the reserve to 200 miles surrounding each of its seven islands and atolls.
- Since it’s devoid of people, animals thrive there. Almost everywhere in the world, small fish outnumber big fish. But in places such as Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef, scientists have found the biomass of large predators such as sharks outweighs that of smaller fish. The area–which also includes Wake, Johnston, Jarvis, Howland and Baker Islands–also features five species of protected sea turtles and 22 species of protected marine mammals as well as several million seabirds who gather there.
- There isn’t much commercial activity there, and it can move elsewhere. The fish caught in this region accounts for between 1 and 3 percent of the U.S. tuna catch in the central and western Pacific, and it is proposed that the seafood Industry can fish elsewhere. The industry may still object to the expansion, however, which is one of the reasons why the White House is seeking public input before making a final decision.
- There is a global contest for bragging rights when it comes to creating marine reserves. At this point, environmentalists are hoping President Obama will be tempted to trump George W. Bush’s record as the U.S. president who has protected the most area in the ocean. If finalized, this would become the world’s largest no-take marine reserve. Britain, which currently holds the record for fully protecting the biggest swath of ocean around the Chagos Islands, is now looking at putting an area around Pitcairn Island off limits
[Note: Currently New Zealand and Australia collectively have just under half of all the MPAs in the World within their EEZs with networks of MPAs protecting representative areas (see map below)]
This is a great initiative right? Then why is the White House receiving sooo much criticism?
Well doesn’t shutting down a shop over there simply force those shoppers to shop elsewhere?
According to Fox News the U.S fishery council that governs the Pacific territories’ fisheries oppose the initiative:
The proposed restrictions are “unnecessary,” and enforcing them would be “overstepping currently managed sustainable management regimes, reducing US fisheries competitiveness, and yielding few, if any, ecological benefits,” according to a report issued two weeks after the State Department conference by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council — a group created by the federal government itself.
The Obama administration “failed to consult the [Council] about the true economic and environmental impacts of its plan to expand the Monument,” which overrides existing fishery management legislation.
The fishermen also charge that the expanded preserves will almost entirely affect U.S. fishing vessels, which they argue are already the best managed and most supervised in the world, even though any overfishing in the vast Pacific involves a variety of international fleets, and notably these days a rapidly increasing flotilla from China.
This sentiment was reiterated by professor Ray Hilborn of the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at University of Washington (a renowned authority on global fish populations), who sees the marine preserves as embodying a zoological contradiction:
“They are supposedly intended to protect fish such as tuna that are “highly migratory” and travel thousands of miles during their life-span.
“The areas proposed are too small to impact the stock status of large tuna populations that span the Pacific Ocean. These are token closures and will have no real impact on the fishes of the ocean.”
“The best solution to address overfishing of highly migratory stocks is working cooperatively within the international community on science-based measures, monitoring compliance, and tough consequences for non-compliance.”
Prof. Carl Walters of the University of British Columbia, agrees with Prof. Hilborn:
“You would need to substantially close the entire Western Pacific. The kind of 20 percent standards that are being set now are not very effective.”
The director general of the Forum Fisheries Agency, James Movick, says the U.S move could drive longliners into the southern seas, further depleting the very stock the small island states are trying to conserve.
“It’s hard to see what precise management benefit would be obtained from that. What it will do though is encourage those fleets to relocate, including onto the high seas and other areas where they might be less subject to close management.”