Pacific marine monuments a great step forward

By Kaitilin Gaffney

Ocean Conservancy

On Tuesday, Jan. 6, President Bush announced the designation of three new marine monuments, or marine protected areas, in the Pacific Ocean surrounding the Northern Mariana Islands, several Central Pacific islands and Rose Atoll in American Samoa. The President’s action, using the 1906 Antiquities Act, will:

1) Protect entire marine ecosystems by banning fishing and mineral exploration and development in over half of the designated area. These oceanic scale monuments will cover 195,555 square nautical miles, an area larger than the state of California.

2) Add to the 140,000-square-nautical-mile Papahnaumokukea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, an initiative begun by former President Clinton and completed by President Bush in 2006.

Like national parks on land, marine protected areas are places where fish and wildlife can be given relief from human impacts, while also being protected for the enjoyment of future generations. Studies of existing marine reserves, where destruction of wildlife and its habitat is prohibited, show that reserves over time can allow fish to grow older and bigger, producing up to 17 times as many young.

President Bush’s decision underscores the bipartisan support for marine reserves. It recognizes the importance of a healthy ocean to the United States - it’s good for fish and it’s good for the economy, all the more so in this state that relies heavily on tourism to its coastal areas, and wants to maintain a healthy fishery for recreational and other commercial uses.

California, with ocean champion Governor Schwarz-enegger, has been an early leader on this very issue of marine protected areas through the MLPA. Just like in the Marianas, there is strong statewide support for the establishment of a network of marine protected areas along the California coast. Californians recognize the urgency in protecting our most critical marine habitat, especially in the face of impending climate change, and the resultant ocean acidification - scientific studies show that the more an ecosystem retains its natural biodiversity, the better it can withstand the stresses placed on it by climate change.

In late spring, the California Fish & Game Commission will vote on whether to accept the Integrated Preferred Alternative marine protected area proposal forwarded to them by the governor’s Blue Ribbon Task Force which worked with regional stakeholders on a proposed marine protected area network for the region between Half Moon Bay and mid-Mendocino County.

A public process to develop new MPAs for the rest of Southern California is now getting underway, with final designation expected in 2010. The recent announcement by the president is just one more reason why the multi-year effort by Californians to fulfill the goals of its own coastwide network of marine protected areas should continue to move forward with full support.

For more information on marine protected areas visit