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US joins bid to create vast Pacific marine reserve; Kiribati bans fishing
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) June 17, 2014

Kiribati to forbid fishing in vast swath of Pacific Ocean
Washington (UPI) Jun 17, 2013 - It's a good day for oceans -- the Pacific Ocean, anyway. The small island nation of Kiribati announced today that it would set aside and protect a large chunk of the Pacific Ocean, forbidding fishing and other commercial activities.

The news comes just as reports broke that President Obama would dramatically expand an already protected portion of the Pacific Ocean south and to the west of Hawaii, apparently doubling the amount of preserved ocean water in the world.

The area of preserved ocean established by Kiribati is roughly the size of California and will enjoy its first official day of protection on January 1, 2015.

Like Obama's plans, Kiribati is expanding an already protected area. Obama's plans will see the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument -- first created by President George W. Bush -- grow from 87,000 square miles to nearly 782,000 square miles. Kiribati will increase the size of its Phoenix Islands Protected Area -- which at 155,000 square miles in size, is already one of the largest marine protected areas in the world.

The area around the Phoenix Islands -- which offer some of the world's most pristine coral reefs -- has been protected from fishing pressure since 2006, but nearby waters have seen an uptick in tuna farming activity in recent years.

"We will also close the area around the southern Line Islands to commercial fishing to allow the area to recover," said Kiribati President Anote Tong, who announced the new preserve yesterday in Washington at the Our Ocean conference hosted by the U.S. State Department.

"The ocean is essential for maintaining the environment in which we all live," Kerry said at the conference, where he called on world leaders to do more to protect the world's marine habitats. "The importance of the ocean for life itself cannot be overstated."

The United States joined forces with other nations Tuesday to declare a vast swath of the Pacific Ocean a marine sanctuary and take "historic" steps to combat illegal fishing.

Taking the helm in a stepped up fight to save the planet's oceans, President Barack Obama ordered his administration to chart a way to expand an existing US reserve and create what would be the world's largest marine park.

Combined with other pledges from nations such as the Cooks and Kiribati, the expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument would mean some three million square kilometers (1.2 million square miles) are declared off-limits to all fishing fleets and to drilling activities.

Some $1.4 billion was also pledged at a two-day conference to help fight pollution, acidification and overfishing endangering the health of the oceans.

"Right now only a small fraction of the world's ocean... is currently protected," US Secretary of State John Kerry said closing two days of landmark talks he hosted at the State Department.

More must be done, he said, but the new commitments are "a terrific start."

Leaders from more than 80 countries met for two days with scientists and industry experts to hammer out an action plan to protect the seas from man's encroachment.

Obama said he would use his executive powers to expand the Pacific Islands marine park, where the White House said "tropical coral reefs and associated marine ecosystems are among the most vulnerable areas to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification."

In a video address to the conference, Obama said he had also directed the US government to "build a national strategy to combat black-market fishing."

"Rising levels of carbon dioxide are causing our oceans to acidify. Pollution endangers marine life. Overfishing threatens whole species as well as the people who depend on them for food and their livelihoods," Obama said.

Before the exact scope of the sanctuary is drawn up, "we will consider the input of fishermen, scientists, conservation experts, elected officials, and other stakeholders," the White House said.

- Bleached coral -

But the plan could ignite a new battle with Republicans in Congress, angered by Obama again using his executive powers to bypass the US legislature.

"If we ignore these problems, if we drain our oceans of the resources, we won't just be squandering one of the humanity's greatest treasures, we'll be cutting off one of the world's major sources of food and economic growth," Obama warned.

He won support from Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, an avid diver, who pledged his foundation would pump another $7 million over the next two years into projects to help the oceans.

"I've witnessed environmental devastation first hand," DiCaprio told the conference, recalling two dives he made some 18 years apart on the Coral Reef in Australia.

"What once had looked like an endless underwater utopia is now riddled with bleached coral reefs and massive dead zones."

"Unfortunately today, there's no proper law enforcement capacity and little accountability for violating the law. It's the Wild West on the high seas," warned the star of the box-office hit movie "Titanic."

Kerry said the move to clamp down on illegal fishing meant all seafood sold in the United States would be "sustainable and traceable."

A recent report found that between 20 percent and 32 percent of wild-caught seafood imported into the US in 2011 came from illegal or "pirate" fishing.

Environmentalists also welcomed Obama's plans as "a historic step forward in the fight against seafood fraud and illegal fishing worldwide."

"This initiative is a practical solution to an ugly problem and will forever change the way we think about our seafood," said Beth Lowell, campaign director with the international advocacy Oceana group.


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