U.S. Commits to New Marine Sanctuaries
U.S. President Barack Obama restated his commitment to protecting marine ecosystems during the opening of the 2015 Our Ocean Conference in Chile on Monday. In a video message to conference participants in Chile, Obama announced that the administration is taking steps to create two new marine sanctuaries – one in the tidal waters of Maryland and one in Wisconsin's Lake Michigan waters.
Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan
In Wisconsin, an 875-square mile area of Lake Michigan, with waters extending from Port Washington to Two Rivers was nominated by the Governor for sanctuary protection, and the nomination was endorsed by a diverse coalition of organizations and individuals at local, state, regional and national levels including elected officials, businesses, environmental, recreation, conservation, fishing and tourism groups, museums, historical societies and education groups. The area contains a collection of 39 known shipwrecks, 15 of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Fifteen of the known shipwrecks are essentially intact, and three vessels possess standing masts - a rarity in the Great Lakes.
Mallows Bay-Potomac River, Maryland
Mallows Bay-Potomac River in Maryland is a 14-square mile area of the tidal Potomac River, adjacent to Charles County. Nearly 200 vessels spanning from the Revolutionary War through the present are found in the area, including the remains of the largest “Ghost Fleet” of World War I wooden steamships built for the U.S. Emergency Fleet, which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Mallows Bay is largely undeveloped and has been identified as one of the most ecologically valuable in Maryland providing important habitat for fish and wildlife, including rare, threatened, and endangered species. Mallows Bay-Potomac River was nominated by the former Governor of Maryland in September 2014, and the nomination was endorsed by a diverse coalition of local, state, regional and national groups.
Last year, the Administration gave Americans the opportunity to nominate nationally significant marine and Great Lakes areas as national marine sanctuaries for the first time in 20 years. The proposed sanctuary sites will be open for public comment now through to January 15, 2016.
Secretary of State John Kerry, attending the conference, announced the launch of Sea Scout, a new global initiative that will unite governments and stakeholders worldwide in the fight against illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing by focusing global assets and partnerships on identifying, interdicting, and prosecuting IUU fishing organizations and networks around the world.
Sea Scout will strengthen at-sea fisheries enforcement through integration of existing and emerging technologies, expanded use of internet-based tools, enhanced coordination and information sharing and capacity building. Sea Scout will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of at-sea enforcement through the identification of regional “hot spots” – where IUU fishing is known to be most severe or to pose the most significant threat – to ensure that at-sea enforcement assets are directed and deployed in the most efficient manner.
New Tools to Target Illegal Fishing
NOAA is also announcing new steps to provide data, tools and technical assistance to target illegal fishing. This includes the further development and availability of an application to assist in detecting ocean-going vessels using the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) a space-based sensor. VIIRS is capable of detecting lights, including from boats that use lights to attract fishery catch at night, in order to target potentially illegal activities for further inspection by other assets.
In 2016, the detection system and alert services will be implemented in Indonesia, the Philippines and three other countries. In the following years, future partnerships will build capacity in other countries.
Earlier this year, NOAA and the State Department unveiled the final action plan of the President’s Task Force on Combating IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud. The plan lays out aggressive next steps for implementing the recommendations issued by the Task Force in December 2014, and includes measures to create and expand domestic partnerships to detect illegal fishing and seafood fraud, strengthen enforcement and develop a traceability program to track seafood from harvest to entry into U.S. commerce, beginning with the species most at risk for trafficking or fraud.
More to Come
The announcements build on other steps Obama has taken to protect important marine areas, including designating the Bristol Bay area of Alaska as off-limits to future oil and gas leasing. Last year, he signed a proclamation to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, creating the world’s largest marine reserve off-limits to commercial extraction and protecting one of the most pristine tropical marine environments in the world.
As Obama says in his video address, he will look for opportunities to protect even more of our waters in the months ahead.