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A Presidential Push For Ocean Sanctuaries

Giant new ocean sanctuaries are being laid out by President Obama.  We’ll look at what they can save, and what they can’t.

A school of fish in the ocean. (Steve Jurvetson / Creative Commons)

A school of fish in the ocean. (Steve Jurvetson / Creative Commons)

Even in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, the new ocean sanctuary promoted this week by President Obama looks impressively large on the map.  Almost 800,000 square miles, right in the middle of the Pacific.  South and west of Hawaii.  North and east of Samoa.  Building on sanctuaries laid out by George W. Bush.  Where there would be no fishing.  No drilling.  A huge sanctuary for marine life.  But warming knows no boundaries.  Acidification knows no boundaries.  Nor does floating garbage.  This hour On Point:  in the deep blue sea, what these great new huge ocean sanctuaries would mean.

– Tom Ashbrook


Juliet Eilperin, White House reporter for the Washington Post. Author of “Demon Fish: Travels Through The Hidden World of Sharks.” (@eilperin)

Sylvia Earle, marine biologist and ocean explorer. Founder of Mission Blue.

Benjamin Halpern, professor of environmental science and management at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

From Tom’s Reading List

Washington Post: Obama proposes vast expansion of Pacific Ocean sanctuaries for marine life — “President Obama announced Tuesday his intent to make a broad swath of the central Pacific Ocean off-limits to fishing, energy exploration and other activities. The proposal, slated to go into effect later this year after a comment period, could create the world’s largest marine sanctuary and double the area of ocean globally that is fully protected.”

National Geographic: Several Nations Announce Massive Marine Reserves in the Pacific — “By the close of a two-day conference in Washington on the world’s oceans, five nations had pledged to extend marine protections to cover more than a million square miles. The United States, Palau, the Cook Islands, and the Bahamas unveiled their plans on Tuesday, following Kiribati’s announcement Monday that commercial fishing would end in the vast marine reserves in its Pacific Ocean territory by the end of the year.”

Nature: Conservation: Making marine protected areas work — “In the past few years, several huge marine protected areas (MPAs) have been created in the Pacific and Indian oceans, totalling more than 1.6 million square kilometres. That might sound like a large area, but even when combined with every other MPA on the planet, still less than around 2% of the world’s oceans are fully protected.”

(Map via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

(Map via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

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  • Guest

    This is a brilliant initiative by President Obama. The world’s oceans are God given treasures that must be preserved and protected.

    • northeaster17

      They are more than treasures. We need them to survive.

      • TFRX

        Yep. Although only tangentially related, I first read the phrase “strip mining of the oceans” from Derrick Jackson, op-ed for the Globe, about 20 years ago. If it were more visible, like coal-mine slag heaps or hog lagoon runoff or chemical plant explosions, it would receive much more of the attention it deserves.

        As an aside, I shudder to think of the number of fish species which have been driven to dangerously low levels since Jackson first wrote about it.

        • northeaster17

          Out of sight, out of mind. But then those that pillage know that idiom all to well.

    • andic_epipedon

      Are we going to go to war with China, Japan, Spain and Portugal if they fish in international waters/our newest sanctuary? Or is it all a publicity stunt to give the appearance that our leaders care? Let’s not forget that it was Bush’s idea to begin with, so it’s not just Obama’s baby.

  • Matt MC

    I agree, we need to start dumping bleach into the ocean to balance out the acidification caused by global warming.

  • Jim

    i think it is all overdue… i think we should do the same for the north atlantic ocean, especially with cod fishing.

  • James

    I like the idea, get someone from the National Parks Service out there to keep the area clean, and get tourist out there for diving expositions.

    • andic_epipedon

      It’s actually a joint effort between NPS and NOAA. If you have enough money you can already go there.

  • wgp2

    The GOP is claiming this is *yet* another example of an imperial president making a ‘land grab’ from the freedom loving extraction industries and our perceived right to trash the planet. The vituperative response from the GOP means that Obama is doing something right by the planet.

    • northeaster17

      “Former President George W. Bush created the marine sanctuary Obama wants to enlarge to about the size of Texas. The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, as the area is known, would expand from its nearly 87,000 square miles to nearly 782,000 square miles that includes seven uninhabited islands.”


      The hypocracy on the right is, as usual, outrageous.

      • wgp2

        I totally agree. I see the same rhetoric coming from the Right every time some new proposal for protected lands is put forth. Even when a State puts forth a plan to protect Federal lands further, with local input, the GOP in Congress act like the world will end.

  • Dab200

    It will be only approx. 1.15% of the Pacific Ocean

  • Shepard

    Tom, you say the map of this area is impressive. Could you post this map on your website?

  • Dab200

    Are we claiming Global Jurisdiction? Is all Pacific Ocean American? How is this going to be enforced, especially against foreign fishing vessels?

  • Michiganjf

    Thanks to your guest for mentioning that we count on healthy oceans for much more than food!

    The fact that we need healthy oceans for oxygen production and as a carbon sink… LIFE ITSELF FOR LAND ANIMALS… is far too often left out of this type of discussion!

  • Jim

    the lady caller said does the president have the rights without voter approval?

    Well, this issue is and should not be called for a referendum vote. it is morally urgent to do so regardless of who will or will not benefit. recall, every american voters want to deny children of illegal immigrants the right to a decent education. then president JFK and the supreme court rule it is unconstitutional and morally wrong. going back to current issue. this action by the executive branch is seeking to preserve the country and its economic future. no need for the legislative branch which is run by a bunch of lobbyists seeking to make a profit at every action and turn.

  • Christy Los

    I had the remarkable honor of experiencing a National Geographic excursion to Svaalbard, Norway a few years ago. It was a majestic journey and I will never forget it. I recall that one of the NG experts told us that there is a substantial fee for ships to bring in their solid waste when they come back to shore. This seems rather absurd- to charge ships to bring their waste back to land. As a result, most ships will dump their waste in the ocean so they aren’t charged for doing the right thing by bringing it back to shore. That’s pretty backward thinking- we should be paying these ships for bringing the trash back

  • hennorama
  • Yar

    Remember, it was just one year ago when we bombed the great barrier reef.

  • wgp2

    I think what this move by Obama also does (although I suspect it would never be said publicly), in addition to protecting a large portion of the Pacific Ocean, is to strategically protect it from the land-grabs that China has been doing in the South China Sea. China is now creating sand-bar islands on cora reefs so they can ‘claim’ the land as sovereign land for resource extraction – fishing, oil & gas. Call it soft defense.

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