A marine sanctuary to cover nearly 782,000 square miles.
US President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday the 17th of June that he will be proposing expanding a current marine sanctuary.
The Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, taking it from its current 87,000 square miles to a whopping 782,000 square miles. This will make it the largest wildlife refuge anywhere, at sea or on land.
Northwest of Hawaii
The current refuge is centered around the seven uninhabited islands of Midway, northwest of Hawaii, and famous for its role in the Second World War. In 2009, it was made a protected area under the name The Midway Atoll Wildlife Refuge.
Today it is home to some 1,800 protected marine animal species.
Expanding with more than 700,000 square miles
The new expansions would take advantage of international marine law, which states that a 200-mile zone off any shoreline is the economic exclusive right of the country to which that shoreline belongs.
By expanding the current wildlife refuge to cover the entirety of this zone, the refuge is expanded by more than 700,000 square miles.
The expansion is scheduled to come into effect later this year, provided it passes in Congress.
Along with the proposition of the wildlife refuge, President Obama also proposed new regulation to be instituted to combat illegal fishing practices and black market fish trade.
As well as seafood fraud, where seafood caught in protected areas, or belonging to protected species, are mislabelled or in other ways passed off as being something that they are not.
This would also be a major step in the right direction for marine protection in the US. Especially in the wake of the of a study from Marine Policy, which states that as much as 32 % of all seafood sold in the US may come from unsanctioned, “pirate fishing” sources.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Philippe Cousteau Jr
Both announcements were made at the Our Oceans conference, hosted by the US State Department and the UN. This event ran for two days, on Monday the 16th and Tuesday the 1t7th of June.
Among the speakers were several noted researchers such as Plymouth University’s Richard Thompson, celebrity spokespeople such as Leonardo DiCaprio and noted environmentalists such as Philippe Cousteau Jr., the grandson of the famous Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
What about the remaining 98% or our oceans?
While there is little doubt that a marine sanctuary of this size is a huge win for marine conservation, it still leaves more than 98 % of the world’s oceans unprotected.
However, both from a practical point of view, and as a symbol of the willingness to take major steps to protect our oceans. The new, expanded Midway Atoll Wildlife Refuge will stand as an important example of other nations to follow.
And this may in fact already be happening, as only moments after this declaration was made, the president of Kiribati, Anote Tong, took the stage to announce that the country would be banning commercial fishing in a 157,000 square mile zone by the end of this year.