They are seven sand-and-coral dots in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, far west and south of Hawaii. They are known best, if they are known at all, for guano mining in the 19th century and nuclear tests in the 20th.
If you said they were among the most inconsequential bits of U.S. territory, who would argue? They are surely the most distant. But the 21st century has brought a greater appreciation of Howland, Baker and Jarvis Islands; Johnston, Wake and Palmyra Atolls, and Kingman Reef. It’s because the waters around them are an unparalleled wildlife habitat.
The United States does not have an Amazon basin, but it has the watery equivalent: a paradise of turtles and sharks, seals and dolphins, coral reefs and giant clams, frigate birds and boobies.
Those are the best reasons to welcome President Obama’s decision, announced Tuesday, to greatly expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, one of four vast protected marine areas in the Pacific Ocean created by President George W. Bush under the Antiquities Act, a 1906 law that allows the executive branch to protect federal territory from exploitation with the stroke of a pen.
Environmental conservation has a long bipartisan history in this country. These remote waters are a part of America most citizens may never see, but they should be thankful that presidents, of both parties, had the foresight to protect them.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE NEW YORK TIMES