There has been a major push in recent weeks for more stewardship on a worldwide basis for the planet’s marine environments. Recently, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech in which he tasked the leaders of the world to come up with an agreement on how to best protect earth’s oceans. And now President Obama is on the verge of announcing a considerable expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, increasing the boundaries of the existing protected area from 8,700 square miles to 782,000, effectively doubling the size of the protected area that exists today.
The ocean area under consideration encompasses uninhabited landmasses in a remote region. The sanctuary contains numerous islands and atolls, along with immense swaths of the sea south and west of Hawaii. The zone is habitat to a diverse assortment of fish, mollusks, corals, marine mammals, seabirds and other wildlife. What does the expansion do? It makes the vast sanctuary off-limits to fishing, energy exploration and other activities.
First off, if you are a Republican and this upsets you, it shouldn’t. In 2009, George W. Bush first created the marine protection zone. This is simply an expansion of that already existing marine sanctuary, not a creation of a new one. The only people this upsets are commercial fishermen who are employing unsustainable fishing practices. Sport fishing is not affected, so that means anglers will not have to worry about any new regulations.
The Fish Wars
This new expansion is aimed directly at the increasing incidents of poaching in the world’s remote oceans. From earlier posts, I have discussed this problem before. International poaching is becoming an epidemic, with fishing boats harvesting species from the sovereign waters of other countries. Australia has seen its share of interlopers in its territorial waters, vessels travelling thousands of miles outside of their own economic zones. China and Vietnam (along with other Asian nations) are currently embroiled in a heated argument over a disputed part of the South China Sea, an argument that has been raging for decades. Also, China is seeking to expand its influence across the Pacific through a variety of methods. The expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument might very well be a proactive response to their provocative action.
Some may say this is a bad time to be closing off new avenues of energy exploration, but I applaud the move for many different reasons. If the oceans die, we die. It’s as simple as that. The main question, though, is…
Will it work?
782,000 miles of open ocean. That’s a lot of space to patrol. One might say it’s impossible to effectively enforce the new restrictions over such a vast area of the remote sea. Given the range of modern aquatic radar and the influx of satellite imagery, one would assume enforcement shouldn’t be too difficult. However, we have to take into account the case of MH370. With all of our modern technology, we can’t even find a jumbo jet that has been equipped with devices specially designed to be found. If we can’t find a wrecked plane that wants to be found, how are we going to locate poachers who don’t?
Evidence points to the fact that there aren’t enough resources to patrol or protect the existing boundaries of the sanctuary. It is not uncommon for foreign vessels to be illegally fishing in the protected zone when that craft can catch a half a million dollars’ worth of tuna in a few days. They will disregard the US laws. Satellite imagery and radar works in theory, but these technologies have been in use there for over two decades and does little to stop illegal maritime activity. Even if a radar or satellite does pick up a fishing vessel several hundred miles away, it would be days before a patrol ship intercepts it. Even with the fastest, highest range helicopters can only fly about 350 nautical miles before needing to refuel. Most places would be out of range unless we want these aircraft to drop from the sky en route.
Bottom line: the expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument is a good idea. However, unless it can become a true international effort, it might just be more of a symbolic gesture than anything else.
Sources: au.news.yahoo.com | nytimes.com | bignewsnetwork.com | washingtonpost.com