Rose Island, seen here, is part of three remote and uninhabited Pacific island chains that are protected from oil and gas extraction and commercial fishing.
Photo by Jean Kenyon/AP

Obama expands protected ocean area

President Obama signed a proclamation Thursday more than quintupling the size of the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument, vastly expanding the amount of ocean area currently under federal protection. Commercial fishing will now be forbidden in the protected area, which will cover about 490,000 square miles.

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The Obama administration first announced its intention to expand the boundaries of federally protected ocean area during the State Department’s Our Ocean conference in mid-June. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the official signing of the proclamation on Wednesday, the day before the president put pen to paper and created what Kerry described as “one of the largest maritime protected areas in the world.”

“The fact is that the connection between a healthy ocean and life itself for every single person on earth simply cannot be overstated. It’s – there is nothing that we share so completely, all of us, as the ocean that covers this planet,” Kerry said during a press event Wednesday in New York.

In between the June announcement and Thursday’s official proclamation the administration received more 170,000 public comments on the proposal, according to a White House fact sheet.

Kerry’s announcement came the day after the United Nation’s 2014 Climate Summit, also held in New York. At the summit, Obama announced a few other actions his administration would take to combat pollution and climate change, the most significant of which is a new executive order requiring that federal agencies factor in environmental sustainability when they design international development programs. Both that executive order and the president’s move to expand protection of maritime area are part of the White House’s “Year of Action” – a concerted attempt to wield more power through unilateral executive authority, particularly when it comes to environmental protection.