Earlier this week, three federal government agencies — the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Commerce Department — jointly proposed the creation of a critical marine habitat for Pacific humpback whales. Measuring more than 300,000 square nautical miles, the proposed area only covers waters within the United States’ jurisdiction.

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The proposed region for the protected marine habitat hugs the coasts of California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. But even within that proposed area, certain sections are excluded — sectors that the proposal states would bring about severe economic impacts and sectors related to national security (homeland and military). A designated “corridor” of safety for marine organisms, especially whales, was also left out of the proposal, owing to the unpredictable movement patterns of living things.

Related: New app could save Puget Sound whales from boat strikes

Nonetheless, news of the proposed marine habitat brought cheers from conservationists, because when the rule is ratified, there can be added protections for species at risk, like the Pacific humpback whale.

Back in 1970, humpback whales were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Conservation Act and again under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973. Thanks to the International Whaling Commission’s moratorium against commercial whaling, the Megaptera species was able to return from the brink.

Even so, they are still vulnerable today. A designated marine habitat can protect these gentle giants against threats of fishing gear entanglements, vessel collision, interference from offshore energy development activities, food competition with fisheries and illegal whaling. Once the animals are protected in the marine habitat, environmentalists can then shift their focus to reducing the risks of pollution.

Because the rule is still in the proposal stage, it will not go into effect until a certain date, which depends also on how adverse the responses are during the comment period. The public is invited to comment on and thereby shape the proposed rule, either in writing, by email or vocally at a hearing, to help the federal government develop, improve upon and finalize the rule. To read the proposed rule for the marine habitat on the Federal Register, visit the federal government link here.

+ Turtle Island Restoration Network

Image via Dennis Flarsen