The Largest Conservation Area in the World Is Now Underwater


August 27, 2016

A marine sanctuary west of the Hawaiian Islands is now the largest conservation area in the world, thanks to President Obama Friday.

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, originally founded in 2006 by President George W. Bush, will quadruple in size from its current boundaries to cover 582,578 square miles – that’s larger than the state of Alaska. According to NOAA, Papahānaumokuākea is home to expansive coral reefs with more than 7,000 marine specices, of which one-quarter are endemic to the Hawaiian Archipelago, and is a place of significant nature to Native Hawaiians.

Image: NOAA

In 2010, Papahānaumokuākea became the first mixed UNESCO World Heritage Site in the United States. Now, it “holds a place in history for global ocean conservation,” John Armor, acting director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, reports on NOAA’s website.

Climate change and other growing environmental threats are affecting oceans across the globe, and Papahānaumokuākea is no exception. This announcement and expansion will provide additional protection for the landscapes, inhabitants, and ecosystems that live and thrive in its waters.

The unique and diverse features of Papahānaumokuākea include shipwrecks from the United States and Japan (some from the Battle of Midway), endangered seal, whale, and sea turtle species, geologic features such as seamounts and a non-volcanic ridge, coral reefs, and ongoing deep sea research.

Hawaii’s Department of Natural Resources and Office of Hawaiian Affairs will take on larger roles in the management of the monument, part of an effort to elevate the voices of Native Hawaiians.

With only six months remaining in his presidency, President Obama used his executive authority under the Antiquities Act to carry out this historic action. He will visit Hawaii next week and dedicate the monument at Midway Atoll on Thursday, according to a statement by the White House.

During his time in office, President Obama has designated protection to more acres of public lands and waters in the United States than any other President. This historic expanded protection of Papahānaumokuākea – adjacent to his home state – will be remembered as yet another gift to the country’s future.