By Nina Wu
Should the boundaries of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument be expanded?
President Barack Obama announced at an ocean conference in June his intention to expand the monument's boundaries from 50 to 200 miles from shore, using his executive authority, as reported in the Washington Post.
The total area covered would more than double the monument from about 83,000 square miles to more than 755,000 square miles, west and south of Hawaii, making it the largest network of protected areas on Earth.
President Obama is expected to make a decision after public input, though there is no specified timeline or date in which he will do so yet.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality, on behalf of NOAA and FWS, invited the public to a town hall meeting Aug. 11 at Ala Moana Hotel. Comments were also accepted via email until Aug. 15.
There was overwhelming support from Hawaii, according to environmental activists.
More than 200 attended, and roughly 50 commented publicly, including individuals from Maui, Molokai, Kauai and Miloli‘i on the Big Island, the last traditional fishing village in Hawaii. The large majority were in favor of expanding the monument to protect the ecosystem from the shore to the deep sea as well as to create a refuge for endangered species. Also, to keep the area safe from drilling and mining.
More than 135,000 U.S. citizens submitted letters, 1,500 from Hawaii residents. More than 30 non-profits including the Sierra Club Hawai‘i, Conservation Council for Hawaii, KAHEA, Surfrider Hawaii and others sent a group letter in support.
Some opposition came from the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management because of concerns from commercial fishermen.
The monument was established by George W. Bush in 2009, covering roughly 83,000 square miles, which extend 50 nautical miles from the shores of seven islands and atolls: Howland, Baker, Jarvis islands and Johnson, Wake and Palmyra Atolls and Kingman Reef.
Collectively, the Pacific Remote Islands are home to 14 million seabirds of 19 species, 22 species of marine mammals, seven of which are endangered, including the blue whale, m ore than 240 seamounds and some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world.
It is also home to some of the healthiest populations of green and hawksbill sea turtles.
"By protecting the entire ecosystem from the shore to the deep sea, we ensure that all the links in the food web remain intact," said Alan Friedlander, director for the Fisheries Ecology Research Lab at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.