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Biden to expand Pacific Remote Islands marine monument

Green Sea Turtle at Palmyra Atoll. Photo by NWR

By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Setting a goal to conserve 30 percent of U.S. ocean by 2030, President Biden has proposed the expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Sanctuary, backpedaling on a federal agency's earlier statement that spreading the existing monument was not on the table.

At the White House Conservation in Action Summit on Monday, Biden directed the secretary of commerce to initiate within the next 30 days the process for a new National Marine Sanctuary designation covering the Pacific Remote Islands southwest of Hawaii.

"Such protections would encompass areas unaddressed by previous administrations so all areas of U.S. jurisdiction around the islands, atolls, and reef of the Pacific Remote Islands will be protected," the White House stated in a press release.

Currently, the Pacific Remote Islands monument area consists of approximately 495,189 square miles in the central Pacific Ocean, encompassing seven islands and atolls: Baker, Howland, and Jarvis Island; Johnston, Wake, and Palmyra Atoll; and Kingman Reef.

The marine sanctuary designation banned fishing operations within the protected areas.

According to the White House, the potential new National Marine Sanctuary would conserve 777,000 square miles, including the existing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument and currently unprotected submerged lands and waters.

"The region has a rich ancestral tie to many Native Hawaiian and Pacific Island communities." the White House said. "The process for a potential sanctuary designation would allow the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to further explore the area’s scientific, cultural, and ancestral linkages, and tailor its management accordingly."

Washington's announcement, however, was inconsistent with a statement issued last year by Martha Williams, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who said that the Biden administration had no plans to expand the boundaries of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.


“As part of monument management planning, the wildlife agency is not considering additional or potential expansion of the PRIMNM beyond what has already been implemented by Presidential Proclamations 8336 and 9173,” Williams said in October, responding to Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata Radewagen’s inquiry.

On Monday, the White House said Biden will direct the Department of the Interior and the Department of Commerce to launch a public process and consult the region's indigenous cultural leaders to appropriately rename the existing Pacific Remote Islands National Monument, and potentially the islands themselves.

The monument will be renamed in honor of "the area’s heritage, ancestral pathways and stopping points for Pacific island voyagers, and to provide posthumous recognition for young Native Hawaiian men sent to secure U.S. territorial claim to the islands in the run-up to World War II," the White House said.

Congressman Ed Case of Hawaii welcomed the president's plan, which he said was consistent with his own repeated calls.

“These waters are among the last pristine marine environments on our

Earth, and also the most fragile,” said Case, a member of the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries.

During his prior service in Congress from 2002 to 2007, Case also advocated successfully for the creation of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.


“Our world's oceans are at mortal risk, a breaking point precipitated by the unsustainable overfishing and other resource extraction, debris and land-based pollution, exacerbated and compounded by the devastating and pervasive marine effects of climate change," Case said.

“The Pacific Remote Islands including their waters are not only a critical interlocking component of the broader Pacific marine ecosystem but an integral part of the historical and cultural ties of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific as well as a key source of scientific knowledge on the preservation of a sustainable ocean environment," Case added.

The proposed monument expansion, however, is expected to be opposed by American Samoa.

Radewagen, American Samoa's delegate, said the U.S. territory was concerned about the potential impact of expansion on its fishing industry.

"Further increasing the PRIMNM by over 50 percent would destroy our fishing economy," Radewagen said in a June 25, 2022 letter to Biden. Yet thousands of foreign fishing boats, predominantly Chinese, surround that PRIMNM border and often encroach and illegally fish upon it."

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