Pristine Seas backs expansion plan for Pacific Remote Islands sanctuary
By Ron Rocky Coloma
Pristine Seas, a National Geographic project, supports the Biden administration's plan to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.
“We applaud President Biden's decision to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument,” said Enric Sala, National Geographic's explorer-in-residence, who initiated Pristine Seas in 2008.
“It is a conservation action long in the making but more urgent than ever, given the dismal state of most of our ocean," he added.
Pristine Seas noted that the islands are at the center of a large ecosystem that extends beyond the current boundaries of the monument. The expansion will benefit thousands of species of marine life, not only those moving through the expansion area but also the islands at the very center of the monument.
“Seabirds nest on those islands and travel tens to hundreds of miles to catch fish to feed their chicks,” Sala said. “Tuna schools bring those small fish to the surface and help the birds catch them.
“The birds in turn fertilize the islands with their guano and help make the coral reefs around them more productive,” he added. “It's one of the last examples of a healthy marine ecosystem, from the surface to the deep sea, from nearshore to offshore.”
Sala can only see benefits to the proposed expansion and not drawbacks.
He said the industrial fishing lobby opposed the creation of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument and Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monuments in the first place, but they are actually catching more tuna around the monuments now than before the protection.
“We cannot keep fishing everywhere; we need refuges to allow the fish to recover, reproduce and help replenish their populations,” Sala said. “The worst enemy of fishing is overfishing, not marine monuments.”
Pristine Seas have visited and conducted research at some of the Pacific Remote Islands since 2005 and supported its creation by President Bush in 2009 and expansion by President Obama in 2014.
The expansion aligns with the global target of protecting at least 30 percent of the ocean by 2030 and strengthens the U.S. leadership in ocean conservation.
The proposal to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument was open to public comment in May, including public meetings across U.S. territories in the Pacific. Local communities were not only consulted and informed, but in fact, the expansion proposal has been driven by Native Hawaiians, according to Sala.
“The world agreed to protect at least 30 percent of the global ocean by 2030, yet currently only 8 percent is under some kind of protection,” Sala said. “This expansion contributes significantly to the global efforts and places the U.S. in a leadership role, which hopefully will inspire other governments to follow.”