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Actor Leonardo DiCaprio hugged Secretary of State John Kerry at the State Department’s “Our Ocean” meeting in Washington.

Cliff Owen • Associated Press,

Obama plans to create massive ocean preserve

  • Article by: Josh Lederman
  • Associated Press
  • June 17, 2014 - 8:41 PM

– Moving to protect fragile marine life, President Obama announced plans Tuesday to create the world’s largest ocean preserve by banning drilling, fishing and other activities in a massive section of the Pacific Ocean.

Using presidential authority that doesn’t require new action from Congress, Obama proposed to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which President George W. Bush designated to protect unique species and rare geological formations. The waters are considered U.S. territory because they surround remote, mostly uninhabited islands that the United States controls between Hawaii and American Samoa.

Carbon pollution is making the world’s oceans more acidic, pollution is threatening marine life and overfishing could wipe out entire species, Obama warned as he vowed to expand the sanctuary at a State Department conference.

“If we ignore these problems, if we drain our oceans of their resources, we won’t just be squandering one of humanity’s greatest treasures,” Obama said. “We’ll be cutting off one of the world’s major sources of food and economic growth, including for the United States. We cannot afford to let that happen.”

Obama hasn’t settled on the final boundaries for the preserve. The White House said Obama planned to solicit input from fishermen, scientists, politicians, experts in conservation and others.

Conservation groups said the reach could be massive.

Under maritime law, nations have exclusive economic control over waters that extends 200 nautical miles from its coast. Drawing on an geographic analysis of U.S. possessions in the region, the Pew Charitable Trusts determined that Obama could protect more than 780,000 square miles — almost nine times what Bush set aside when he created the monument.

The practical effect of the expanded marine sanctuary could be modest. Currently, very little commercial fishing is conducted in the waters Obama wants to protect, and there are no signs that drilling in the waters is imminent. But conservation groups said it was crucial to be proactive.

“Anywhere there are fish to be extracted or minerals or resources, these locations are under threat from commercial extraction,” said Matt Rand, who runs Pew’s global ocean legacy project.

The step comes as Obama is searching for ways to leave his mark on the environment despite opposition from many Republicans in Congress.

© 2014 Star Tribune