The proposal that would create the world’s largest marine reserve is a poor idea whose time, sadly, has likely come.
President Obama wants to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, so designated by his predecessor, from about 80,000 square miles to upward of 750,000.
Leaders in the U.S. Pacific Territories have spoken out against the plan, which would ban fishing, resource exploration, and other economic activities. So have the chair and co-chair of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, among others, as seen in the video below, but I expect their entreaties will fall on deaf ears.
Marine reserves are not inherently bad, but they must be justified by — and measured against — specific conservation objectives. “Greater protections of our beloved ocean,” as cited by petitioners in favor of expanding the monument, is not an especially rigorous standard.
Indeed, in this case the precautions offered by a reserve are dubious. Conservationists describe the waters as pristine, which implies that any human activity that has taken place over the years has had no deleterious effect. And you’re banning fishing… why?
The impacts on local fishermen as well as our distant water tuna fleet will be real and adverse. Islanders who oppose an expanded monument know very well it will mean economic losses to local fisheries and the stifling of the traditional Pacific Islands fishing culture that has sustained local communities for centuries.
Yet their voices are countered not with data, but with sentiment: “Together we can push for the fullest expansion and the fullest protection of one of America’s natural wonders,” writes Frances Beinecke of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
George W. Bush erred when his administration fashioned the monument, and Obama has erred in proportion. Unfortunately, the times and the tides are against us.