Last week President Obama signed a proclamation to expand the existing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument by six times its previous size. The Monument Expansion designates the largest marine reserve in the world, making vast areas of the Pacific Ocean completely off limits to commercial resource extraction, including commercial fishing. In announcing the proclamation the White House said, “expanding the Monument will more fully protect the deep coral reefs, sea mounts, and marine ecosystems unique to this part of the world, which are also among the most vulnerable areas to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.”

Pacific Ocean Monument Expansion

The expansion brings the area protected by the Monument to 490,000 square miles around tropical islands and atolls in the south-central Pacific Ocean, including the waters and submerged lands of Jarvis and Wake Islands and Johnston Atoll. The expanded Monument will include over 130 newly protected sea mounts, which are considered hotspots of biodiversity. The expansion will also better protect the habitat of migratory and foraging birds and sea animals with large ranges, such as sea turtles, marine mammals and manta rays. The White House fact sheet on the expansion proclamation acknowledges that “birds serve as a conveyor belt of energy bringing nutrients caught at sea back into the near shore environment where they help sustain the ecosystems.” Migratory sea animals perform a similar function.

Related: President Obama Announces Executive Order to Fight Illegal Fishing

Of the threats facing the designated area the fact sheet notes, “Climate change is causing sea levels and ocean temperatures to rise. Changing temperatures can harm coral reefs and force certain species to migrate. In addition, carbon pollution is being absorbed by the oceans, causing them to acidify, which can damage coastal shellfish beds and reefs, altering entire marine ecosystems.” The Administration chose to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument because of the evidence that large marine protected areas can help rebuild biodiversity, support fish populations, and improve overall ecosystem resilience.

Recreational and traditional fishing that is consistent with the conservation goals of the Monument will still be allowed under the expansion. However, commercial fishing and other resource extraction activities, including deep sea mining, are banned. The expanded monument will continue to be managed by the Departments of the Interior and Commerce through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

+ The White House Press Office 

Via The Guardian

Photos by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Tchami via Flickr; and Beth Pike/Marine Conservation Institute via Wikimedia Commons