Obama administration shines spotlight on oceans

The pink coral gardens of Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific abound with tropical fish. (Photo by Jim Maragos/USFWS)

The pink coral gardens of Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific abound with tropical fish. (Photo by Jim Maragos/USFWS)

President Obama announced today he intends to vastly expand the Pacific Remote Islands marine sanctuary, putting a swath of the south-central Pacific off-limits to fishing and energy development.  The announcement is part of a high-profile oceans conference taking place this week at the State Department. Australian scientist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg  focused on ocean acidification, which he says undermines the entire marine food chain – from bowhead whales to plankton and shellfish.

“As the water is acidifying around them, they’re having trouble forming skeletons, reproducing, growing, communicating and navigating around marine habitats,” he said.

He says the oceans are acidifying rapidly due to increased carbon emissions. Hoegh-Guldberg says reversing the trend would take 10,000 years or more.

“So this is a really long period of time to pass on a broken ocean to future generations. We’re not talking about grandkids. We’re talking about three hundred generations of humans,” he said.

Another speaker said the waters of the Arctic and Antarctic will be among the first to face damage, because they’re colder and therefore take up more carbon dioxide.

The conference was aimed more at drawing attention to marine issues rather than advancing science. One speaker was Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio.

The Obama Administration also announced an intention to crack down on black-market fishing.

Republican members of Congress are criticizing Obama’s planned expansion of the Pacific sanctuary. Alaska Congressman Don Young says he should have first consulted user groups in the region and worked with Congress.

See more photos of the marine monument.

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