Obama expands National Monument into world's largest protected site

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Hawaii's Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument will quadruple in size.

The expanded National Monument is home to more than 7000 species. // Courtesy: US Fish and Wildlife Service

The expanded National Monument is home to more than 7000 species. // Courtesy: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Protecting land is officially the cool thing to do at the White House. Just days off designating a brand new National Monument in Maine, President Obama, on Friday, expanded a National Marine Monument off the coast of Hawaii into the single largest protected area on the planet.

With another executive order, Obama has more than quadrupled the size of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, taking it from 139,800 to 582,581 square miles.

The monument surrounds ten sparsely-inhabited islands northwest of Hawaii and includes numerous reefs and atolls that provide “critical protections for more than 7,000 marine species,” according to a White House statement. Seals, whales, sea turtles, as well as black coral, the longest living species of organism on earth, all call the islands’ waters home. The expanded monument is now larger than all America’s National Parks combined and has an area slightly smaller than that of Montana.

Even though it officially became a National Monument in 2006 per orders from President George W. Bush, Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Bill Clinton all took steps to protect the archipelago's waters in other ways. In 2008 it also became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Obama’s move is only the latest in a more than a century effort to preserve their waters.

Not unlike other Federally-protected areas, Papahanaumokuakea has been the object of a tug-of-war between scientists, environmentalists or natives, and commercial interests. Longline fishermen have argued the added protections would stall a $100 million industry. The monument prohibits commercial fishing and deep-sea mining while allowing recreational and traditional fishing as well as scientific research.

This latest addition brings Obama’s total protected land to over 548 million acres and more than two dozen National Monuments: more than twice that of any of his predecessors. He will travel to the region this week to highlight the addition in a speech to the Pacific Island Conference of Leaders and the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress, before traveling to Midway Island, located in the monument, on Thursday.

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