White House Protects the Pacific

Preservation of U.S. territory in the South Pacific will expand


Old monument in green, and new in blue. (Marine Conservation Institute)

More than a thousand miles south of Hawaii, scattered across the South Pacific, some of the world's most pristine islands, atolls, and reefs remain one of the few places in this world relatively untouched by the hand of man. With the exception of some intense fighting during WWII, this chain of islands, known as the Remote Pacific Island Territory, have changed very little over the course of the past few thousand years. The White House, with the help of environmentalists and some influential figures in the surf industry, are hoping to keep it that way.

Technically a part of U.S. Territory, in 2009 President Bush enacted legislation that would preserve the pristine status of the islands by making them a national monument. As a result of this designation, the reefs, lands, and oceans that extend 50 nautical miles from each island were given special status and are heavily protected. Recently, President Obama, under executive order, further expanded the protection of these monuments by increasing the size of the preserve from a total of 77,000 square miles to 490,000 square miles, an area three times as large as California. Under this status, commercial fishing and drilling would be banned and millions of birds, fish, and other forms of sea life would be protected.

"We're committed to protecting more of the world’s ocean. Today, one to three percent of the ocean is protected, that’s it,” Secretary of State John Kerry told the media. “That’s why President Obama will sign a proclamation that will create one of the largest maritime protected areas in the world. It will be protected in perpetuity."

Many surfers, like the North Shore’s Jodi Wilmott, have been advocates of the move to expand the protection of this area. "As surfers, the ocean has given us an incredible livelihood and lifestyle. It’s our responsibility to try and preserve as much of the Pacific Remote Islands as possible," said Wilmott, who runs media for the Triple Crown. "We have an opportunity to protect an area that’s relatively untouched by humans. Let’s give back to the ocean and do what we can to keep these waters pristine and thriving.”

Randy Rarick, who co-founded the Triple Crown and still serves as its executive director, is another surfer who has publicly backed the initiative to expand the reserve. "Surfing has allowed me to travel the world and see some amazing places," said Rarick. "I know just how important it is to protect nature and I think these new measures are important."

However, Obama's executive order to expand the reserve is drawing some criticism from opposition as well from commercial fisherman who frequent the waters off the islands. Some other critics state that President Obama could have extended the preserve even further, up to 780,000 square miles.