In the warm Hawaiian sunshine, a monk seal hauls itself out of the turquoise blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. As the blubbery behemoth sunbathes on the rocks, an assortment of animals, including hawksbill sea turtles, scalloped hammerhead sharks, and blue whales, patrol the watery depths below.
In this remote stretch of the Northern Hawaiian Islands, these endangered species are still a common sight. They share the surrounding water, land, and sky with more than 7,000 species, one quarter of which are found nowhere else on Earth.
These species, their ecosystems, the historic military landmarks on Midway Island, and a sacred component of native Hawaiian culture all receive protection under the newly expanded Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Created by President George W. Bush in 2006 and expanded by President Obama ten years later, the monument encompasses 582,578 square miles of crystal blue ocean, making it the second largest marine protected area (MPA) on the planet.
The expansion of Papahānaumokuākea punctuates a breakout year for marine protection. More than 1.5 million square miles of MPAs were announced around the world in 2016, many at the annual Our Ocean Conference.
As a result of this progress, existing and proposed MPAs cover six percent of the ocean, a substantial increase from 2010 when less than one percent was protected. This increase reflects the growing global reliance on MPAs as a tool to safeguard marine biodiversity and bring the international community a step closer to reaching the international goal declared during the 2016 Our Ocean Conference to protect ten percent of the ocean by 2020.
This global momentum is important because, in addition to protecting wildlife, cultural sites, and coastal livelihoods, MPAs help to protect the ocean from the effects of climate change.
Following his August 2016 visit to Midway Island, President Obama spoke at the Our Ocean Conference about the recovery of Midway’s once stressed ecosystem following the departure of the U.S. military in the late 20th century. Struck by the vibrancy of corals and the volume of wildlife he witnessed, the President pointed to the island as an example of nature’s ability to recover when protected and professed his belief that protected, resilient ecosystems are well positioned to weather the effects of climate change.
“The oceans can come back,” he said, “if we take the steps that are necessary. I saw it. It was right there—evidence of the incredible power of nature to rebuild itself if we’re not consistently trying to tear it down.”
(Video Credit: Blue Ocean Productions).
Published in March, 2017, by the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative.