President Barack Obama will issue a proclamation to expand the existing Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM), off the coast of Hawaii, to four times its current size. At 582,578 square miles (1.5m sq km), the new borders will make the protected area twice the size of Texas and the largest protected marine area in the world. The move is intended to protect animal and plant life as well as the world’s deepest and northernmost coral reefs.

Hawaii’s governor David Ige requested the expansion of the marine reserve earlier this year in response to a community-driven effort to protect what has been called “one of the earth’s last best examples of a healthy marine ecosystem.” Enlarging the already protected area will provide further safeguards for the biodiverse region, parts of which have been designated as a marine reserve for decades. PMNM was originally established in 2006 by then-President George W. Bush as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, and the name was updated the following year.

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Initially, the protected area covered 140,000 square miles, including 10 islands and atolls that are home to 7,000 species. Among the ocean creatures living in the protected area are green sea turtles, the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, Laysan and Nihoa finches, the Nihoa millerbird, Laysan duck, seabirds such as the Laysan albatross, as well as numerous species of plants and arthropods.

Obama has made marine protections something of a priority during his tenure. In 2014, he ordered the expansion of another South Pacific Ocean marine reserve. Since marine reserves close even more ocean territory to commercial fishing, industry leaders are criticizing the decision, claiming political motivations are trumping scientific findings.

Obama will travel to Hawaii next week to mark the proclamation ordering PMNM’s expansion and highlight the importance of protecting the world’s oceans.

Via The Guardian

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