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United States: Pacific Marine Reserve Expanded

(Nov. 7, 2014) President Barack Obama has issued a proclamation creating the largest marine reserve in the world, expanding an existing reserve over scattered areas in the south-central Pacific Ocean.

The September 25, 2014, proclamation expands the territory of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. (Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument Expansion, Proclamation No. 9173, 79 Fed. Reg. 58,645 (Sept. 29, 2014).) The monument was originally established in January 2009 by proclamation of former President George W. Bush. (Establishment of Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, Proclamation No. 8336, 74 Fed. Reg. 1565 (Jan. 12, 2009).)

The areas covered by the reserve are the waters and submerged lands around seven small land masses under the ownership or control of the United States, namely, the Wake, Baker, Howland, and Jarvis Islands, Johnston and Palmyra Atolls, and Kingman Reef. President Obama’s proclamation extends the reserve to the waters and submerged lands “to the extent of the seaward limit of the United States Exclusive Economic Zone … [which is] 200 nautical miles from the baseline from which the breadth of the territorial sea of these seven Pacific Remote Islands is measured.” (Proclamation No. 9173, supra.) This expands the reserve six times its previous size, to 370,000 square nautical miles around the islands. (Press Release, White House, Fact Sheet: President Obama to Designate Largest Marine Monument in the World Off-Limits to Development (Sept. 24, 2014).)

The proclamation states that the covered areas are “withdrawn from all forms of entry, location, selection, sale, leasing, or other disposition under the public land laws to the extent that those laws apply.” (Proclamation No. 9173, supra.) It thus prohibits commercial fishing, deep sea mining, and other resource extraction activities. (Fact Sheet, supra.)

The White House stated that “[e]xpanding the Monument will more fully protect the deep coral reefs, seamounts, and marine ecosystems unique to this part of the world, which are also among the most vulnerable areas to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.” (Id.)

The authority of Presidents Bush and Obama to issue these proclamations derives from the Antiquities Act of 1906 (16 U.S.C. §§ 431–433 (2012).