President Barack Obama will announce Tuesday plans to create what could be the world's largest marine sanctuary, an initiative that will protect large swaths of the Pacific Ocean from overfishing, energy exploration and other human activities, according to White House officials.
Slated to go into effect later this year after a comment period, the proposal could double the area of global ocean that is fully protected. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and White House counselor John D. Podesta led the effort, aimed to safeguard more ocean territory.
"No one should mistake that the protection of our oceans is a vital international security issue," Kerry said at an international summit on Monday.
"Most people under-estimate the enormous damage we as people are inflicting on our oceans every single day."
Under the proposal, The Washington Post first reported, the president will expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument from almost 87,000 square miles (225,000 sq km) to nearly 782,000 square miles (2.03 million sq km) - an area that includes seven territories and atolls controlled by the United States. Former President George W. Bush first established the monument during his second term.
The United States is the leading nation in terms of ocean preserves - it controls more than 13 percent of the ocean area overseen by nations. And with this expansion, it would also protect nearly two dozen species of marine mammals, five types of threatened sea turtles, and a variety of sharks and other predatory fish species.
Environmental groups no doubt applaud the move, but others, mainly political opponents, who question the scope of Obama's executive powers are likely to voice harsh criticisms - the president has as used his executive authority 11 times to protect areas on land without seeking congressional approval.
"It's another example of this imperial presidency," House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., told the Post. "If there are marine sanctuaries that should be put in place, that should go through Congress."
Despite scrutiny, Obama is confident in his efforts.
"We've already shown that when we work together, we can protect our oceans for future generations. So let's redouble our efforts," he said in a statement, Reuters reported.
And political will such as this, officials say, is an ingredient that is lacking when it comes to ocean preservation.
Kerry concluded his speech at the summit by saying, "Ask yourself: If this group can't create a serious plan to protect the ocean for future generations, then who can and who will?"
This proposal coincides with the announcement that wildlife in a vast portion of the Pacific Ocean, controlled by the island nation of Kiribati, will also be protected with a commercial fishing ban.
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