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Obama Moves to Protect Vast Pacific Ocean Areas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Tuesday unveiled efforts to expand protection of vast areas of the Pacific Ocean controlled by the United States from over fishing and environmental damage.

President Barack Obama's proposal, to go into effect later this year, would create a vast marine sanctuary and is part of an effort to safeguard more ocean territory, which is under threat from several factors, including overfishing and climate change, the White House said.

The announcement, part of the president's national ocean policy, coincided with an oceans conference held by the State Department on Monday and Tuesday at which Secretary of State John Kerry called for a global effort to protect the world's oceans, which cover more than 70 percent of the planet.

"We've already shown that when we work together, we can protect our oceans for future generations. So let's redouble our efforts," Obama said in a statement.

The president's plan would expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument from its current area of 87,000 square miles and would affect seven islands and atolls controlled by the United States.

The coral reefs and marine ecosystems of this section of the south-central Pacific Ocean are some of the most vulnerable areas to climate change and ocean acidification, the White House said.

The president will also direct federal agencies to create a comprehensive program to prevent illegal fishing and stop illegally caught fish from being sold, a move designed to spur the market for sustainably caught seafood.

"Because our seafood travels through an increasingly long, complex and non-transparent supply chain, there are numerous opportunities for seafood fraud to occur and illegally caught fish to enter the U.S. market," said Beth Lowell, campaign director at the ocean conservation group Oceana.

Obama also announced measures to protect coastal communities vulnerable to climate change, including an offer of $102 million in grants to restore flood plains and natural barriers along the Atlantic coast, and released a paper detailing the impacts of ocean acidification.

The measures will be carried out by executive order, and do not require congressional approval.

A comment period over the summer will allow the Commerce and Interior departments to hear objections and fine-tune the plan.

In addition to the White House measures, actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio announced at the oceans conference his foundation will pledge $7 million to support ocean conservation programs over the next two years.

DiCaprio previously gave Oceana a $3 million grant to back their efforts to support sharks, marine mammals, and key ocean habitat in the Eastern Pacific. 

 

 

(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal and Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Ros Krasny, Sofina Mirza-Reid and Meredith Mazzilli)

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