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Obama’s expansion of marine sanctuary makes it world’s largest

The United States now has the largest marine sanctuary in the world. President Obama just announced that he was expanding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument marine sanctuary, making a total of 490,000 square miles of protected habitat for countless species, such as the masked boobie, coconut crabs, sea turtles and dolphins.

The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument was established in 2009, under Obama's leadership. The sanctuary preserves important ecosystems off the Hawaiian islands, around Wake, Baker, Howland, and Jarvis Islands, Johnston and Palmyra Atolls and Kingman Reef.

Healthy oceans are vital to ecosystems. Organisms such as coral, which are an integral part of the food chain, have been sickening in recent years. Last month, 20 new types of coral were listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Factors such as run-off from fertilizer and other chemicals can be very bad for corals' health, as well as fishing and other human activities. This new addition to the Pacific marine sanctuary will protect endangered species such as corals, blacktip sharks, and many fish. There are likely still undiscovered species in the habitat and approximately 15 to 44 percent of the species found in the sanctuary are not found anywhere else in the world.

"The national monument shares a maritime border with the Republic of Kiribati, one of which is adjacent to the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, another protected area which, as of January 1, 2015, will be closed to commercial fishing," said Greg Stone, executive vice president of Conservation International.

The land areas in the Hawaiian marine sanctuary have never been inhabited by people. Providing the land and surrounding seas with environmental protection means preserving one of the most diverse ecosystems in the nation. Some corals in the areas that were just added to the sanctuary are as old as 5,000 years old.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) placed the world's oceans at the forefront of the climate change discussions recently because of new evidence that much of the added heat is being absorbed by oceans, causing acidification. Adding new land to the Pacific sanctuary will allow scientists to study more about the ocean and find new ways to protect marine life in the face of climate change and pollution. If any one species, such as coral, goes extinct, the effects could be disastrous for the fragile ocean ecosystems. Protecting more ocean in the Pacific Remote Islands is vital to the environment.

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