Trump Places Pacific Marine Protected Areas at Risk

According to a copy of the report obtained by The Washington Post September 19, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has recommended that President Trump modify 10 national monuments created under the last 3 administrations, shrinking the boundaries of at least four western sites, and three marine monuments. Specifically, the leak indicates that the administration has direct target to reduce or eliminate protections for the Utah Bears Ears Monument and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument and four others.

Zinke submitted recommendations to the President in late August, but the full report has not yet been released to the public.  Zinke recommends Trump reduce Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, Nevada’s Gold Butte, and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou but does not specify exact reductions for the protected areas.

The two marine national monuments mentioned in the leaked memo are the Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll near Samoa. A third monument mentioned is the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts in the Atlantic, established by President Obama in 2016.

The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument consists of Wake, Baker, Howland, and Jarvis Islands, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, and Palmyra Atoll which lie to the south and west of Hawaii. These islands host some of the most abundant and diverse marine life in US waters and many endangered species not found elsewhere.

Established in January, 2009 by Presidential Proclamation 8336 and expanded in 2014 by Presidential Proclamation 9173, the Pacific Remote Islands Monument is the second largest marine protected area in the world and an important part of the most widespread collection of marine life on the planet under a single country’s jurisdiction. The Monument area consists of approximately 370,000 square nautical miles (1,269,065 square kilometers) encompassing seven islands and atolls in the central Pacific Ocean.

Part of the Line Islands chain, Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef are also remnants of volcanoes from some 65–120 million years ago. Kingman is the most undisturbed coral reef within the United States, complete with a greater proportion of apex predators (sharks and jacks) than any other studied coral reef ecosystem in the world. Palmyra Atoll, which consists of about 50 islets and a few lagoons, supports breeding populations of 11 species of seabirds, including one of the largest red-footed booby colonies in the world and the largest black noddy colony in the Central Pacific. Many nationally and internationally threatened, endangered, and depleted species thrive at Palmyra and Kingman, including sea turtles, pearl oysters, giant clams, reef sharks, coconut crabs, fishes, and dolphins.

This initial review ordered by the President placed 27 national monuments at risk including the Bears Ears national monuments in Utah to marine protection under Marine National Monuments in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The initiative is widely expected to trigger dramatic changes in protections or boundaries for monuments to accommodate special interests like coal, oil, gas and logging industries. National monument designations have protected many of the most iconic places in the country. Many of our nation’s most national parks were first protected as monuments, including Grand Teton, Grand Canyon, Zion, Sequoia and Olympic national parks. Currently there are 129 National Monuments in the system. Two Utah sites encompass a total of more than 3.2 million acres.

By expanding the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument off Hawaii in August 2016, President Obama created the largest ecologically protected area on the planet by increasing area under President George W. Bush in 2006. Using the Antiquities Act, Bush created the first Marine National Monument protecting 140,000 square miles in the Northwest Hawaiian Island Chain. Obama 582,578 square miles off northwestern Hawaii, with coral reefs that are home to more than 7,000 marine species. The first Marine Monument in the Atlantic, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the coast of Cape Cod created under Obama are also at risk. Marine national monuments generally include bans on oil and gas exploration and drilling and most commercial fishing operations.

Since 1906, the Antiquities Act has given  the President the authority to designate  National Monuments so that future generations can experience our nation’s wildlife, waters, historic sites, and open spaces. First used by President Theodore Roosevelt, monuments are created using executive powers under the 1906 Antiquities Act. This Act is intended to protect culturally or environmentally significant lands and waters from development and exploitation and has been used 157 times under 16 presidents. Some areas designated as National Monuments have later been converted into National Parks, or incorporated into existing National Parks. Sixteen presidents from both parties have used the Act to protect land and marine resources, including 5 by GW Bush who protected the Marianas, Pacific Remote Island and Papahanumokukea Marine National Monuments. President Obama made the widest use of the Act, establishing protection 39 times during his protection, followed by President Clinton at 13. President Carter protected the largest area in the Alaskan Wilderness.

Under the Act, only Congress has the clear authority to reduce or nullify a monument designation, not the president. So far, no president has attempted to withdraw Monument Status, although a few have reduced their size including Woodrow Wilson, who sharply downsized what was then called Mt. Olympus National Monument and is now part of Olympic National Park in Washington state.

The order instructed the Interior Secretary to submit a preliminary review within 45 days and a final one within 120 days.  A summary report released by the Secretary of the Interior indicates that comments received were overwhelmingly in favor of maintaining existing monuments and demonstrated a well orchestrated national campaign organized by multiple organizations.

Shark Stewards and the Earth Island Institute are preparing an action campaign to fight the reduction of our marine national monuments, and preserve these critically important species and regions.