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#MahaloObama: Celebrating the Largest Protected Area in the World

The following is a blog post by Jim Robinett, Senior Vice President of External and Regulatory Affairs at Shedd Aquarium.

Kure Atoll, Kure Lagoon from Green Island
Kure Atoll, Kure Lagoon from Green Island.
© Susan Middleton

On Friday, the White House announced the passing of a bill to expand Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, a marine ecosystem off the coast of Hawaii, making it the largest protected area in the world on land or sea. The historic expansion quadrupled what was previously established by President George W. Bush in 2006 to 582,578 square miles; for reference, that’s almost four times as large as California.

On behalf of our team at Shedd Aquarium, we would like to thank and applaud President Barack Obama for implementing such an important conservation action. The expansion provides the plants and animals that depend on it relief from human-associated pressures, such as exploitation and over-exploitation for the global fishing and wildlife trade. It also provides a sanctuary for marine species impacted by our planet’s changing climate.

Among the seven thousand species that call Papahānaumokuākea home are whales and sea turtles listed under the Endangered Species Act, and the longest living marine species in the world – black coral, which have been found to live longer than 4,500 years. A quarter of the species in the ecosystem are also endemic, or found nowhere else on Earth.

Sea turtle. © Lee Gillenwater, The Pew Charitable Trusts
© Lee Gillenwater, The Pew Charitable Trusts

Though seven thousand strong as of late, this number is growing. Just this year, scientists discovered four new species: three fish species and one cephalopod, which made headlines under the nickname “Casper” for its ghostlike appearance. With more of this ecosystem protected, scientists can continue to study Papahānaumokuākea, learn about new marine species over time and utilize it as a baseline for the effects of climate change on our oceans.

Policy changes like this are made possible by support and advocacy from elected officials, coalitions of like-minded organizations and the public. With this in mind, aquariums from around the nation banded together to form the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP). ACP’s goal is to use aquariums’ voices to advocate for policy change in the wildlife conservation realm. As one of the groups to send a letter to President Obama encouraging this expansion, we are optimistic about other topics having a similar outcome.

The most recent advocacy letter the ACP sent was on a similar issue, requesting the establishment of the first Marine National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean. The area proposed by Senator Blumenthal and other members of the Connecticut delegation is the New England Coral Canyons and Seamounts, just off the coast of Connecticut. As reported earlier this year by scientists with the New England and Mystic Aquariums, the area is an important hot spot for biodiversity, and is in need of protection before further human activity has a chance to negatively affect it.

As we celebrate Obama’s dedication to protecting wild animals and wild places, we look forward to seeing other environmental policies he implements as he nears the end of his term. On behalf of the ACP and our team at Shedd Aquarium, #MahaloObama.