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Obama Administration Pledges to Protect U.S. Oceans

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The Pew Charitable Trusts commended the Obama administration on June 17 for announcing its intent to expand protections of U.S. waters in the Pacific Ocean. The announcement, delivered at the State Department’s inaugural Our Ocean conference in Washington, could lead to protections for up to 656,000 square miles (1.7 million square kilometers) of some of the most biologically important areas of the ocean.

“President Obama’s announcement today is a welcome one. Our oceans are in serious decline, and it will take global leadership, including here in the United States, to make a difference,” said Joshua Reichert, executive vice president of Pew’s global environment program. “Marine protections by this administration will continue a bipartisan tradition begun with Theodore Roosevelt to protect some of America's great ocean landscapes and the life they contain.”

While U.S. waters make up the largest ocean territory on Earth, little is fully protected. Still, a significant amount lies in virtually untouched areas teeming with wildlife, such as sea turtles, dolphins, whales, and sharks, and coral. Research shows that fully protected marine reserves are essential to rebuilding species abundance and diversity and increasing resilience to climate change. They are an important tool for safeguarding the overall health of the marine environment.

President Obama’s pledge follows in the footsteps of previous presidents who have acted to conserve the nation’s environment. This week’s State Department conference builds on this legacy. Secretary John Kerry has brought together leaders and experts from around the world to take visionary and concrete steps to protect the ocean at a time when that is most needed. Human activities, such as overfishing and illegal fishing, increasingly threaten the health of the ocean, which plays an essential role in sustaining life on the planet.

“The United States has the largest ocean territory on Earth. It is only fitting that the country help lead the effort to protect these waters. Pew stands at the ready to help make President Obama’s vision a reality and conserve some of the last relatively pristine and ecologically important marine areas in the world,” said Matt Rand, director of Pew’s Global Ocean Legacy project, which works around the world to establish large fully protected marine reserves in countries’ waters.

“Other leaders are also moving to protect large and critically important ocean environments. Just this year, Palauan President Tommy Remengesau announced his intent to create one of the world’s largest marine sanctuaries in his country’s waters,” Rand said, referring to the island nation in the western Pacific. “Now is the time for global leadership on the oceans.”

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