Trump Threatens Marine Monuments

Coral in the Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. Credit Ian Shive/USFWS


Trump’s Executive order to remove National Monuments can have potentially devastating effect to marine life in the Pacific.

As the Trump administration is considering rolling back federal protection for 10 national monuments, including two in the central pacific, worry of over fishing and protected marine habitats have significantly increased.

The Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument and the Rose Atoll National Marine Monument protect the waters and reefs around a handful of island. The islands, which are south of the Hawaiian Islands, are mostly uninhabited. This has allowed for tropical wildlife and sea life to create a flourishing ecosystem without the threat of human interference.

These shore reefs have long been protected from commercial fishing. The monuments designations extend anywhere from 50 to 200 miles out from the shore lines. These protective areas are in direct jeopardy as a result of Trumps potential rollbacks.

As the concern of a potential threating political move jeopardizes the protection of the marine monuments, scientists are currently utilizing the rich marine reserve to study the effects of climate change. This area is observed as among the last rich, untouched ecosystems.

The fishing industries in Hawaii see protected area very differently. The Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (Wespac) is a driving force behind the Trump administrations thoughts on rolling back the protection. The Honolulu based Wespac has jurisdiction over the waters where 140 long-line vessels fish mostly for tuna and billfish.

Wespac has embraced a new slogan- “Make America Great Again: Return U.S. fisherman to U.S. waters.” The council has argued that the marine monuments have curtailed economic growth and compromised national food security. The council believes that instead of sanctioning off areas fisherman are not allowed to fish, the government should put limits on catch, gear and fishing seasons.

Ray Hilborn, a fisheries expert at the University of Washington and a scientific adviser to Wespac, has argued that tuna and billfish are highly migratory and travel in and out of the reserves. Hilborn stated, “The monuments just force the fisherman to go farther and spend more fuel to catch the same fish. It’s a fake protection.”

While Wespac has argued that the marine monuments have severely hurt fishing, the numbers speak differently. Since 2006, the waters around Hawaii have doubled the amount of bigeye tuna that have been caught, even though more ocean is off limits to fishing. As the years continue scientist hope to see an upward trend in fish population. If they see the numbers they are hoping for, the data will speak volumes about whether the monuments are working in protecting ocean life.

Many scientists including Dr. Richmond, a marine ecologist at the University of Hawaii has criticized Dr. Hilborn’s view of marine monuments. They say the reserve serves as havens for species depleted elsewhere and for populations migrating from the Equator, where warming waters are lowering plankton density.

The importance of sustainable fishing cannot be overstated. As population increases, it is more important than ever to ensure the growth of fish populations. Scientists are able to provide information and statistics to point to the importance of marine monuments and sanctuaries. With this information, we need to make sure our appointed leaders are making the right decisions.

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