Monday, August 29, 2016


I can't let any more time go by without noting probably the most significant governmental act of the summer: President Obama (in the words of the WPost) "created the largest ecologically protected area on the planet when he expanded a national marine monument in his native Hawaii to encompass more than half a million square miles.

The president more than quadrupled the size of the Papahanaumokuakea (pronounced “Papa-ha-now-moh-koo-ah-kay-ah”) Marine National Monument to 582,578 square miles of land and sea in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands."

Under the media radar tuned exclusively to perturbations in the Donald universe,  President Obama made another apparently unobtrusive yet most meaningful contribution to address the climate crisis future.

In the climate crisis context we get somewhat used to speculating on sea level rise, increased flooding and fires, even diseases and epidemics.  But it's harder to even think about the ultimate threat to the world's oceans.  The health of oceans is already weakened by chemical pollution, plastic garbage and other degradation that is deadening huge areas of these massive seas.  But the chemical effects of global heating is perhaps the most pervasive threat.

This ocean area now protected is as close to pristine as the ocean now gets, teeming with life that includes ancient species, and the actual oldest known living beings on the planet, coral that is estimated to be 4,500 years old.   National Geographic:

"Papahānaumokuākea is a sanctuary for endangered species, including blue whales, short-tailed albatrosses, sea turtles, and the last Hawaiian monk seals. It contains some of the world’s northernmost and healthiest coral reefs, considered among the most likely to survive in an ocean warmed by climate change. The seamounts and sunken islands of its deeper waters are inhabited by more than 7,000 species, including the oldest animals on Earth—black corals that have lived for more than 4,000 years. In all, a quarter of the creatures living in the monument are found nowhere else."

If ocean life is to survive and regenerate, this sanctuary may be vital.

Marine biologist Sylvia Earle, a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, said Obama’s announcement buoys hope that the United States can lead the way to a global network of marine-protected areas large enough to save and restore the oceans. These “blue parks,” as Earle calls them, “are not a luxury – a place to go and have a good time,” she said. “Resilience to climate change is dependent upon having significant areas of natural protection—for biodiversity and for all the things that hold the planet steady. This is vitally important to protect our life-support system.”

Quoted in the Atlantic, This is one of the most important actions an American president has ever taken for the health of the oceans,” Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, who formally proposed the expansion last year, said in a statement.

And as the species that's brought such destruction to the ocean, it's the least we can do.

The media will perhaps pay more attention to this when President Obama goes to Hawaii midweek.

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