Obama plans to create world's largest marine protected area

FILE - In this Aug. 4, 2016 file photo, President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon. The White House says that Obama will expand a national monument off the coast of Hawaii, creating the world’s largest marine protected area. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

WASHINGTON — The White House says that President Barack Obama will expand a national monument off the coast of Hawaii, creating the world's largest marine protected area.

Obama's proclamation will quadruple in size a monument originally created by President George W. Bush in 2006. The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument will contain some 582,578 square miles, more than twice the size of Texas.

Obama will travel to the monument next week to mark the designation and cite the need to protect public lands and waters from climate change.

The designation bans commercial fishing and any new mining, as is the case within the existing monument. Recreational fishing will be allowed through a permit, as will be scientific research and the removal of fish and other resources for Native Hawaiian cultural practices. Some fishing groups have voiced concerns about what an expansion of the marine national monument would mean for their industry.

"We are disappointed that the president has made a decision to close an area nearly the size of the entire state of Alaska without public process," Sean Martin, the president of the Hawaii Longline Association, said in an email to The Associated Press. "This action will forever prohibit American fishermen from accessing those American waters. Quite a legacy indeed."

Hawaii's longline fishing fleet supplies a large portion of the fresh tuna and other fish consumed in Hawaii. Martin has previously estimated the fleet catches about 2 million pounds of fish annually from the proposed expansion area.

The White House is describing the expansion as helping to protect more than 7,000 species and improving the resiliency of an ecosystem dealing with ocean acidification and warming. A fact sheet previewing the announcement states that the expanded area is considered a sacred place for Native Hawaiians.

Shipwrecks and downed aircraft from the Battle of Midway in World War II dot the expansion area. The battle marked a major shift in the war. Obama will travel to the Midway Atoll to discuss the expansion.

With the announcement, Obama will have created or expanded 26 national monuments. The administration said Obama has protected more acreage through national monument designations than any other president.

The White House said the expansion is a response to a proposal from Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz and prominent Native Hawaiian leaders. The federal government will also give Hawaii's Department of Natural Resources and Office of Hawaiian Affairs a greater role in managing the monument, an arrangement requested by Schatz and Gov. David Ige.

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