Dubya certainly didn't bother with any, but President Obama has named two new federal marine sanctuaries to protect America's waters as the world's attention turns to the Our Ocean Conference in Chile this week.
In a video message to conference attendees, President Obama announced plans for two new marine sanctuaries, one off the coast of Maryland, and the other in Lake Michigan. They’ll be the first new national marine sanctuaries designated by the federal government in the past 15 years.
One of these sanctuaries will be an 875-square mile section of Lake Michigan off the shore of Wisconsin, which is recognized for its collection of nearly 40 known shipwrecks, some of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The other sanctuary is a 14-square mile area of the Potomac River, which includes Maryland’s Mallows Bay — an area known for its ecological significance, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and home to bald eagles, herons, beavers, river otters and numerous species of fish.
“The United States is committed to working with our international partners to protect our oceans and protect our planet,” says Obama in the video. “Because I refuse to leave our children a planet that’s beyond their capacity to repair.”
The two areas were nominated for sanctuary status last year after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reopened the public nomination process for the first time in 20 years. Since the process was opened, seven nominations were submitted from around the country, and the two announced today were the ones so far approved by NOAA for consideration as national marine sanctuaries. At least one other nomination is still currently under review by NOAA.
These plans come on the heels of other recent action by the Obama administration to expand protection for marine areas in the United States. Last year, President Obama made Alaska’s Bristol Bay off limits to oil and gas development, while still allowing for commercial fishing in the area. He also expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which was originally established in 2009.
Marine national monuments differ from marine sanctuaries in that they can be established by presidential proclamation, whereas sanctuaries are designated by NOAA and require extensive public input — however, they can offer similar protections and human use restrictions over marine ecosystems.
The United States is also announcing several other plans aimed at protecting marine resources. In Chile for the conference, Secretary of State John F. Kerry announced the launch of Sea Scout, a global initiative targeting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by uniting world leaders, expanding technology and information-sharing and identifying illegal fishing hot spots. NOAA also has plans to expand the development of a technology known as the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite, which detects boats and may help alert nations to illegal fishing activities. The technology will be implemented in several nations in 2016, including Indonesia and the Philippines.
Raise your hand if you think any additional marine sanctuaries would be approved or even reviewed by NOAA under a Republican president. Hell, if the GOP keeps control of Congress and gets the White House, I'd expect a law preventing marine sanctuaries from being created, if not reversing the sanctuary status of existing parks for drilling and coastal land development for new McMansions for rick bankers.
Maybe after seven years people will start realizing that President Obama has been serious about the environment since day one.