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Obama announces marine sanctuary in Pacific Ocean

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Coral Davenport

Protecting the Pacific: President Barack Obama to declare a new marine sanctuary.

Protecting the Pacific: President Barack Obama to declare a new marine sanctuary. Photo: AP

Washington: In an effort to protect diverse habitats of coral reefs, whales, dolphins, sharks, sea turtles and numerous fish species from commercial fishing and other activities, President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday that he intends to use his executive authority to create the world's largest marine sanctuary in the south-central Pacific Ocean.

The move is one of the few ways in which the President can create new environmental protections without action from Congress. He has also used his executive authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate 11 new national monuments on land, ensuring that millions of acres of wilderness will remain untouched.

"Growing up in Hawaii, I learned early to appreciate the beauty and power of the ocean," Mr Obama said at a White House event on Tuesday. "And like Presidents Clinton and Bush before me, I'm going to use my authority as President to protect some of our most precious marine landscapes, just like we do for mountains and rivers and forests."

Presidents of both parties have used executive authority to protect public lands and waters. President George W. Bush created what was at the time the world's largest marine sanctuary, protecting 225 kilometres of water off the Hawaiian islands from commercial activity.

Republican lawmakers have criticised Mr Obama for using his executive authority to create monuments on land, thus blocking commercial activity such as oil and gas drilling. Experts said that commercial tuna fishing will likely be the only industry affected by the new sanctuary.

Republican Representative Doc Hastings who is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement, "Oceans, like our federal lands, are intended to be multiple-use and open for a wide range of economic activities that includes fishing, recreation, conservation and energy production. It appears this administration will use whatever authorities - real or made-up - to close our ocean and coastal areas with blatant disregard for possible economic consequences."

White House officials said they have not yet determined the borders of the new sanctuary, nor the specific statute under which it will be created. The officials said the White House will spend the next few months seeking input on the plan from outside groups, including environmentalists, the fishing industry and elected officials, before the plan is final.

Mr Obama is also directing federal agencies to develop a comprehensive program aimed at deterring illegal fishing, addressing seafood fraud, and preventing illegally caught fish from entering the marketplace.

New York Times

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