U.S. steps up as leader in ocean conservation by protecting the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument
by Gabbie Baillargeon
On Thursday, September 25, 2014 the U.S. took a monumental step in ensuring the protection of our coral reefs. Since 1906 presidents have been using their executive power to protect more and more federal land (and oceans) under the Antiquities Act. The premise of the act is to allow for increased protection of U.S. lands without the need for Congress voting on each new addition. So far 297 million acres of federal lands and waters have been established as protected areas through executive action. Off the Hawaiian coast rests the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument which used to be a meager 73,000 acres. It recently got a large upgrade as it is now roughly 490,000 acres, good news for the rich biodiversity of the Pacific Remote Islands.
What does U.S. protection entail?
Previously the Pacific Remote Island area was being drained of its rich biodiversity by commercial fishing companies. When declared as a National Marine Monument of the United States, all commercial resource extraction is entirely banned. This means no fishing, drilling, or harvesting of other ocean resources.
The premise for extending protection is to specifically protect deep sea corals and support biodiversity. In addition, an incredible characteristic of this monument is the formation of 130 seamounts. Drilling and large scale commercial fishing threatened the beautiful habitat of the Remote Pacific Islands area, home to many unique marine species.
What’s a seamount?
Simply an underwater mountain that is formed by volcanic activity. The true importance of seamounts is that the steep mountain-like slopes function as a conveyor belt; bringing fresh nutrients up from the deep, to where sunlight penetrates the water column. The astonishing architecture of seamounts leads to biodiversity blooming along their rocky slopes. The constant flow of nutrients serves both corals, pelagic fish, and mammal species – making seamounts the hub of all marine life.
Using sea floor mapping, scientists have been able to accurately estimate that seamounts cover 28.8 million square kilometers of Earth’s surface. An even more surprising fact is that since they occupy that much area, they are Earth’s largest biome.
By extending protection the U.S. shows itself to be a leader in marine conservation as this protected area is the largest of its kind. This step to help preserve the marine environment is crucial to the survival of coral reefs and will hopefully lead to increased marine protection worldwide. In addition, closing a prime commercial fishing area will give endangered species the chance to rebound. Now the vast abundance of seamounts and marine life that inhabits this range will continue to thrive.