President Obama creates world's largest protected area with ocean monument expansion

Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument contains habitat for green sea turtleTest fillers.

Credit: Pew Charitable Trusts

President Obama's expansion of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument caps off the National Park Service's centennial week and protects crucial habitat for marine life.

The proclamation more than quadruples the size of the monument off the coast of Hawaii, about two years after President Obama similarly expanded Pacific Remote Islands National Monument using the Antiquities Act. Both actions protected teeming communities of marine life including habitat for whales, sea turtles and tropical fish, while preserving important living laboratories to study the effects of climate change. 

"This will benefit not only ocean life and historic resources but also, humanity as a whole as we seek to build resiliency against the effects of climate change," said Wilderness Society President Jamie Williams in a statement. "We deeply appreciate President Obama’s commitment to protecting our ‘blue parks’ with this historic designation." 

"This will benefit not only ocean life and historic resources but also, humanity as a whole" -Jamie Williams 

Expanding  Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument puts President Obama in good (and bipartisan) historic company. President George W. Bush created the monument (originally called the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument) in 2006. President Obama has now reportedly protected more public lands and waters than any other president. 

Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument is a World Heritage site encompassing ocean waters, and ten islands and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It is said to support 7,000 species, one quarter of which are found only in the area. 

Some of the most prominent species in the monument include green sea turtles, the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and seabirds such as the Laysan albatross. Increased protection will shield the area from future deep-sea mining and commercial fishing. 

Antiquities Act endures in national park centennial year 

President Obama's expansion of Papahanaumokuakea comes just days after he used the Antiquities Act to protect the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in the north woods of Maine in honor of the National Park Service's 100th anniversary. The Antiquities Act has been used by presidents of both parties to preserve sites of unique natural and cultural value since President Theodore Roosevelt signed it into law in 1906--and this was a natural opportunity to use it again. 

As we celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial, we must remember the amazing places still awaiting protection. Thank you, President Obama!