White House Plans To Mark Off World's Largest Ocean Sanctuary

The White House is announcing the creation of the world's largest marine sanctuary. The plan would make large sections of the Pacific Ocean off limits to fishing and energy exploration. The boundaries will be set after the White House consults with fishermen, scientists and other stakeholders

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. President Obama is once again exercising his executive authority for an environmental cause. Today he announced plans to create the world's largest marine preserve. His proposal came in a video shown at the State Department's "Our Ocean" conference. The White House says it will seek input from fisherman, scientists, and other experts before setting boundaries for the preserve. NPR's Michele Kelemen has our story.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: President Obama says he'll follow the lead of his immediate predecessors to try to save a massive stretch of the Pacific Ocean from drilling, fishing and other environmental dangers.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Like Presidents Clinton and Bush before me, I'm going to use my authority as president to protect some of our most precious marine landscapes, just like we do for mountains and rivers and forests.

KELEMEN: He wants to dramatically expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which was created by President Bush and covers areas south of Hawaii near mostly uninhabited islands controlled by the U.S. In his video message to the conference at the State Department, President Obama says the U.S. has to do more to prevent ocean acidification, overfishing and pollution.

OBAMA: If we ignore these problems, if we drain our oceans of their resources, we won't just be squandering one of humanity's greatest treasures, we'll be cutting off one of the world's major sources of food and economic growth - including for the United States - and we cannot afford to let that happen.

KELEMEN: President Obama is sure to face objections from the fishing industry, says Monica Jain, founder of Fish 2.0, a business competition that challenges the seafood industry to be more sustainable.

MONICA JAIN: We're always going to see pushback from fishermen anytime. The hope is - and what the expectation is - is that these areas will start to regenerate these species so that they can fish more efficiently in the long-term and their profits will actually be higher than what they are now.

KELEMEN: For this long-term strategy to work, though, she says the U.S. needs to do a better job tracing its imports and satellite technology could help.

JAIN: Now they can track and trace both remotely using the satellite, but people have to be required to do it because otherwise, of course, they're not going to.

KELEMEN: The Obama administration is working on a program to deter illegal fishing, which it says is draining billions of dollars from legitimate businesses. This and many other issues were discussed at the two day conference at the State Department. The president of the tiny Pacific Island nation of Palau, Tommy Remengesau, came to appeal for action.

PRESIDENT TOMMY REMENGESAU: We are leaving the dangers already.

KELEMEN: He says his government is doing its part creating a Marine Sanctuary the size of Texas. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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