Obama to expand Pacific Ocean sanctuaries

Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported The end of fish:

ocean-index-fish-mainThe oceans are stretched, and certain fish species are approaching depletion. Leading scientists project that if we continue to fish this way, without allowing our oceans time to recover, our oceans could become virtual deserts by 2050. That’s just 36 years from now. Given that demand for seafood – along with the world’s population – is rising, don’t be surprised if this window closes even faster. Make your peace with fish, because it may not last much longer.

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If this sounds alarmist, look at the data. The Census of Marine Life concluded in 2010 that 90 percent of the large fish are gone, primarily because of overfishing. This includes many of the fish we love to eat, like Atlantic salmon, tuna, halibut, swordfish, Atlantic cod. If we don’t allow for proper recovery, these fish risk total extinction.

On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry convened the opening session of the “Our Ocean” conference at the State Department in Washington, D.C. Kerry issues urgent call to save oceans:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sounded the alarm Monday on the perils facing the world’s oceans, calling for a global strategy to save the planet’s life-giving seas.

“Let’s develop a plan” to combat over-fishing, climate change and pollution, Kerry urged as he opened a two-day conference in Washington bringing together world leaders, scientists and industry captains.

“We as human beings share nothing so completely as the ocean that covers nearly three-quarters of our planet,” the top US diplomat said.

Heads of government and state as well as ministers from some 80 countries gathered with researchers and experts from the fishing, plastics and farming industries at the State Department.

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Kerry, long a passionate defender of the environment, warned there were already 500 “dead zones” around the world where marine life can no longer be sustained.

A third of the world’s fish stocks are also “overexploited” and “nearly all the rest are being fished at or near their absolute maximum sustainable level.”

If things continue without check, “a significant chunk of marine life may die out because it can no longer live… in the oceans water,” Kerry said, warning of the risk of “breaking entire ecosystems.”

“No-one should mistake that the protection of our oceans is a vital security issue,” Kerry insisted.

“[But] We’re not going to meet this challenge unless the community of nations comes together around a single comprehensive, global ocean strategy.”

Kerry called for an “ambitious” program to reduce plastic trash sloshing around in the oceans, to better understand the effects of climate change on the acidification of the seas, and to cut agricultural nutrient run-offs.

“We cannot afford to put this global challenge on hold for another day. It’s our ocean. It’s our responsibility.”

Protecting the seas was also essential for food security, Kerry stressed, saying some three billion people “depend on fish as a significant source of protein.”

President Barack Obama is expected to make a significant announcement about US conservation efforts during a video address to the conference on Tuesday. The Washington Post reports, Obama to vastly expand Pacific sanctuaries:

President Obama on Tuesday will announce his intent to make a broad swath of the central Pacific Ocean off-limits to fishing, energy exploration and other activities, according to senior White House officials.

The proposal, slated to go into effect later this year after a comment period, could create the world’s largest marine sanctuary and double the area of ocean globally that is fully protected.

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The president will also direct federal agencies to develop a comprehensive program aimed at combating seafood fraud and the global black-market fish trade. In addition, the administration finalized a rule last week allowing the public to nominate new marine sanctuaries off U.S. coasts and in the Great Lakes.

Obama has used his executive authority 11 times to safeguard areas on land, but scientists and activists have been pressing him to do the same for untouched underwater regions. President George W. Bush holds the record for creating U.S. marine monuments, declaring four during his second term, including the one that Obama plans to expand.

Oceans_promoUnder the proposal, according to two independent analyses, the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument would be expanded from almost 87,000 square miles to nearly 782,000 square miles — all of it adjacent to seven islands and atolls controlled by the United States. The designation would include waters up to 200 nautical miles offshore from the territories.

The announcement — details of which were provided to The Washington Post — is part of a broader push on maritime issues by an administration that has generally favored other environmental priorities.

“It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to the pristine ocean,” said Enric Sala, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence who has researched the area’s reefs and atolls since 2005.

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The ocean area under consideration encompasses uninhabited islands in a remote region with sparse economic activity.

Even so, the designation is expected to face objections from the U.S. tuna fleet that operates in the region. Fish caught in the area account for up to 3 percent of the annual U.S. tuna catch in the western and central Pacific, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. When Bush created the monument in 2009, he exempted sport fishing to address industry opposition.

Podesta said a public comment period over the summer will allow the Commerce and Interior departments to “fully understand the commercial activity out there” and modify the plan if necessary.

And what do the science denier Tea-Publicans have to say? They are trapped in the epistemic closure of the conservative media entertainment complex closed information feedback loop of conspiracy theories:

On Capitol Hill, some Republicans have sought to limit the administration’s ability to influence offshore activities, viewing it as another attempt by the president to test the limits of White House power.

“It’s another example of this imperial presidency,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said in an interview, noting that Obama established a National Ocean Policy during his first term to coordinate competing interests at sea. “If there are marine sanctuaries that should be put in place, that should go through Congress.”

Riiight. The “imperial presidency” talking point of the right-wing noise machine. We can’t deal with serious policy issues, dammit! We have to gin up Obama derangement among our ignorant teafolk base for the election!

Leave policy to the serious adults in the room:

For the past 5½ years, the administration has focused on the nuts and bolts of marine issues, aiming to end overfishing in federally managed fisheries and establishing a new planning process for maritime activities. This week’s State Department ocean summit launches what officials there call a broader “global campaign” to address the problems of overfishing, pollution and ocean acidification.

“When the president is besieged by the problems as this administration has faced, it’s tough to keep your focus on ocean policy,” said former defense secretary Leon E. Panetta, who co-founded the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative nearly a decade ago while in Congress. “That’s the problem — you just can’t afford to put oceans on the back burner.”

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Pew Charitable Trusts Executive Vice President Joshua S. Reichert said Obama should also consider expanding the borders of the monuments Bush created in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the Marianas Trench. He said the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allows such designations, is “one of the great equalizers in the ongoing struggle to preserve some of the best examples of America’s natural heritage. Without it, many of these places would long ago have succumbed to the pickax, the chain saw and the dredge, leaving us all poorer as a result.”

More from The Washington Post: The oceans are acidifying at the fastest rate in 300 million years.

UPDATE: And the children shall lead us . . . A Dutch teenager has invented a device that he claims could clean up some 20 billion tons of plastic waste from the world’s oceans. Could a teenager save the world’s oceans? – Daily Mail:

Boyan Slat, 19, came up with the idea of a series of floating booms and processing platforms designed to collect floating plastic rubbish.

The ‘ocean cleanup’ concept is designed to capture the floating plastic but allow life like fish and plankton to pass through unharmed, while saving the waste materials to be recycled.

The engineering student believes that once operational, his device could dramatically reduce the amount of rubbish in the oceans in just five years time.

Millions of tonnes of plastic debris are littering oceans and have accumulated in areas of high concentration called gyres – which are essentially floating rubbish tips.

This litter directly kills millions of aquatic animals annually but also spreads and introduces harmful algae and invasive species as well as man-made pollutants into the food chain, costing governments and organizations millions of dollars to clean up every year, according to Mr Slat.

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While Mr. Slat is now a student at the Delft University of Technology, he came up with the idea while he as at school to win a number of prizes and the respect of more experiences marine experts.

Mr. Slat has set up The Ocean Cleanup Foundation to raise funds to develop his innovation. Web site: The Ocean Cleanup.

One response to “Obama to expand Pacific Ocean sanctuaries

  1. There are many aspects of Global Warming that have – for decades now – been impacting the health of the world’s oceans. Uncontrolled and usually wasteful pillaging of the sea for food is accelerating the loss of that resource.

    If the ocean temps rise only 5 degrees F, sea life will become scant and mostly unrecognizable. Added to that scenario, long dormant (200 million years) methane gas that has been mostly “corked” in the deep water ocean bottom by colder temperatures will begin rising dramatically with only a 3 degree F average ocean temp rise.

    Methane is a deadly gas capable of eliminating 95% of the world’s plant and animal life, as it has done before.

    Mr and Mrs Republican, Do you want to be able to physically observe “Global Warming” in real time before you acknowledge it ?
    Well, here it comes!
    Without drastic, immediate remedial action you will get your wish.

    Unfortunately for humankind, that will be well beyond the atmospheric tipping point – too late to do anything about it.