Obama declares new marine reserve at ocean summit

Building on two previous annual meetings, delegates brought plans to protect the marine environment from pollution.

Published: 16th September 2016 12:19 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th September 2016 12:19 AM   |  A+A-

Obama Our Ocean 2016_Mukh

US President Barack Obama | AP


WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama announced the creation of a new marine reserve on Thursday as Washington hosted a major world summit on protecting the planet's oceans.

Obama addressed the first day of the Our Ocean conference, where ministers and envoys from some 90 countries are meeting with environmental experts to announce conservation measures.

Building on two previous annual meetings, delegates brought plans to protect the marine environment from pollution, overfishing and the effects of climate change.

And they heard Obama's announcement of the 4,913-square-mile (12,725-square-kilometer) Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.

This is an area off the Atlantic coast of New England with three deep undersea canyons and five submerged mountains, home to rare deep-sea coral and whales.

Commercial fishing will be restricted in the area, where scientists have warned that warming ocean temperatures are a threat to stocks of salmon, lobster and scallops.

"I grew up in Hawaii. The ocean's really nice there," Obama said.

"If we're going to leave our children with oceans like the ones that were left to us then we're going to have to act, and we're going to have to act boldly."

The new US national monument follows Obama's recent expansion of the huge Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument off Hawaii, and 20 other countries are to declare new reserves.

"These are problems we can solve. And part of the power of conferences like this is to insist on human agency, to not give in to hopelessness," Obama said.

"Nature's actually resilient if we take care to just stop actively destroying it. It'll come back."

Britain was one of the first to show its hand, announcing a plan to double the area of protected ocean around its far-flung overseas territories.

Fully protected marine reserves are to be set up around the Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific and St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and Ascension in the South Atlantic.

The plans impose a permanent ban on commercial fishing in an additional one million square kilometers (386,100 square miles) of ocean, according to the Foreign Office.

Meanwhile, the Global Environment Facility, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Blue Moon Fund and the Waitt Foundation announced $48 million to help developing countries create and expand tropical marine reserves.

Delegates hope that by 2020, 10 percent of the world's oceans will become protected reserves, with fishing and oil exploration banned or tightly restricted.

And American movie star Leonardo DiCaprio was to unveil a new crowd-sourced technology, Global Fishing Watch, to help concerned people track illegal fishing by satellite.

Ocean protection

The conference was opened by US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has made ocean protection a priority during his three years in office that he hopes his successors will continue.

The first Our Ocean summit was held in Washington in 2014, followed by Valparaiso in Chile last year. Next year's meeting will be hosted by the European Union.

"During our gatherings in 2014 and 2015, nations from across the world committed to designate over six million square kilometers (2.3 million square miles) of ocean as marine protected areas," Kerry said.

"We will build on those achievements by announcing over 120 significant ocean conservation projects, including almost $2 billion in new pledges and commitments to protect more than two million square kilometers in new or expanded marine protected areas."

US Under Secretary of State Catherine Novelli told reporters 90 countries would be represented along with nongovernmental organizations and the private sector.

In addition to new marine reserves, the delegates will discuss scientific advances in monitoring pollution and fishing and funding for clean-up measures and protection.

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