Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

President Trump's Interior Department has recommended shrinking the protected area of the Pacific Remote Islands marine monument, the largest protected area of the world's oceans. (Photo: NOAA Photo Library/Flickr/cc)

With Oceans Under Greatest Threat Ever, Trump Administration Urges Even Less Protection for Marine Life

"It shouldn't be too much to ask to protect two percent of the U.S.'s exclusive economic zone off the Atlantic coast for future generations."

Julia Conley, staff writer

With the world's oceans more severely threatened than ever before, President Donald Trump's Interior Department is recommending even less protection for the fraction of ocean life the U.S. has guarded from commercial fishing and other activities in recent years.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has proposed that three ocean monuments in the Pacific and Atlantic be opened up to commercial fishing, shrinking the protected areas to undetermined sizes. Critics see no reason to give less protection to underwater life, with Jane Lubchenco, former head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), arguing, "There are plenty of other places in the ocean to fish."

"These 'blue parks' harbor unique species, a wealth of biodiversity and special habitats," Lubchenco told the Guardian on Tuesday. "They are undersea treasures. I fervently hope that these incredible marine monuments will not be degraded by opening them up to extractive activities."

The monuments that Zinke recommends altering include the water surrounding the Pacific Remote Islands, whose protected area was expanded to more than 490,000 square miles by President Barack Obama. The monument is now the largest protected marine area on Earth, with the Fish & Wildlife Service calling it "the last refugia for fish and wildlife species rapidly vanishing from the remainder of the planet." Zinke would also allow commercial fishing in parts of the South Pacific's Rose Atoll and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts in the Atlantic.

The three monuments combined are more than three times the size of California, but are just a fraction of the world's marine area—which scientists say are in more danger than ever thanks to rising temperatures, rampant plastic pollution, the bleaching of coral reefs, over-fishing, and noise pollution from the shipping and tourism industries. The regions also account for a very small portion of the United States' waters.

"It shouldn't be too much to ask to protect two percent of the U.S.'s exclusive economic zone off the Atlantic coast for future generations," Peter Baker of Pew Charitable Trusts said of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts monuments. "Allowing commercial fishing there is really a distortion of why you would have a national monument in the first place."

Commercial fishing groups have fought against the protection of the monuments for years, while conservation advocates and marine scientists argue that allowing marine wildlife to thrive unthreatened by humans in specific parts of the ocean is actually helpful to the fishing industry.

"Invalidating this management is nothing short of irresponsible and flies in the face of best science," Robert Richmond, a marine ecologist at the University of Hawaii told the Guardian. "It's a race to the bottom, for the short-term gain of the fishing industry but to their long-term cost."

Critics are also concerned that opening the waters to fishing could pave the way to eventually allowing fossil fuel companies to drill in the monuments—a major concern of opponents to Trump's plan to shrink national monuments on dry land.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
We need your help.

Support progressive journalism.

Common Dreams is not your average news site. We don't survive on clicks or advertising dollars. We rely entirely on your support. And without it, our independent progressive journalism simply wouldn’t exist. Every gift of every amount matters.

Join the fight and support our common dreams today.

Progressive International Convenes Global Summit to Achieve Vaccines for All

The virtual gathering aims to foster "vaccine internationalism" and cooperation to put human lives over corporate greed.

Andrea Germanos, staff writer ·

After Campaigning Against Death Penalty, Biden Admin Seeks Execution of Boston Marathon Bomber

Advocates say the president could eliminate the use of the death penalty by commuting all federal death row sentences.

Julia Conley, staff writer ·

Led by Sanders, Senate Dems Weigh $6 Trillion Infrastructure Bill as Bipartisan Talks Fail on Climate

"The Republican Party has made clear that they are not prepared to stand up for the American people and address the many crises facing working families today. We can get to work without them."

Jake Johnson, staff writer ·

Progressive Warnings Grow as Big Oil-Backed Republicans Endorse Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework

"The Senate GOP members participating in these talks on infrastructure have accepted a career total of $15,896,919 in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies."

Jake Johnson, staff writer ·

Advocates Cheer DOJ Reversal of Trump Policy Denying Asylum to Victims of Violence

"Now it's time to build on this progress," said one migrant rights campaigner. "We're ready to work with the administration to create an asylum system that provides every person a fair opportunity to apply for protection."

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·