President Obama expands the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument at the edge of the breeding range of Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses

Last week U.S. President Barack Obama used his executive authority to sign a proclamation that expands the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monumentto  more than six times in size from that established in 2009 by former U.S. President George W. Bush (click here).

The expanded marine protected area now includes the 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) around Johnston and Wake Atolls and Jarvis Island in the south-central Pacific Ocean – upped from the previous 50 nautical miles.  The monument is closed to commercial fishing.  The expansion is less than that originally proposed due to the concerns of commercial tuna fishing interests (click here).  The original extension proposal would have included the EEZ waters around Howland and Baker Islands, Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll.  Now the existing 50-nautical mile offshore protection zones within the monument around these localities will not change.  The area of the expanded monument is nearly 1.27 million km², up from Bush’s 199 500 km², but less than the over 2 million km² first proposed by Obama earlier this year.

Wake Atoll lies towards the edge of the current breeding range of the Laysan Albatross Phoebastria immutabilis.  A few pairs of Laysans have attempted breeding on the atoll in recent years with a chick successfully fledging in 2001 and two eggs, both unsuccessful, laid in 2013.  Black-footed Albatrosses P. nigripes also visit Wake in small numbers but successful breeding has not been reported although eggs have been laid occasionally.  Breeding by albatrosses on the other islands within the monument does not seem to have been reported - although both Black-foots and Laysans are listed as rare visitors to Johnston Atoll National Wildlife Refuge (click here).

The 2001 Laysan Albatross chick on Wake Atoll, photograph by R. Wheeler

“The expanded Monument [includes] over 130 newly protected sea mounts, which are hotspots of biodiversity that harbor uncounted numbers of new and unique marine species.  The expansion will better protect the habitat of animals with large migration and foraging ranges that stretch throughout the area, including sea turtles, marine mammals, and manta rays.  The Monument is also home to millions of seabirds that forage over hundreds of miles and bring food back to their rookeries on the islands and atolls.  These birds serve as a conveyor belt of energy bringing nutrients caught at sea back into the near shore environment where they help sustain the ecosystems.

Commercial fishing and other resource extraction activities, such as deep sea mining, are banned in the Monument.  In recognition of the importance of encouraging and supporting access to federally managed areas, recreational and traditional fishing that is consistent with the conservation goals of the Monument will continue to be allowed in the expanded Monument.”

 “Previously, only about three percent of U.S. territorial waters were protected from commercial fishing, and 95 percent of that area was within the nearby Papahānaumokuākea National Monument, established by President Bush in 2006.” (click here).

With thanks to Mark Rauzon for information.

Selected Literature:

Rauzon, M.J., Boyle, D., Everett, W.T. & Gilardi, J. 2008.  The status of the birds of Wake Atoll.  Atoll Research Bulletin No. 561.  41 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 30 September 2014

The Agreement on the
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