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Turtle Island Submits Comments to NOAA to Defend Marine Monuments and Sanctuaries

On July 26th, in response to President Trump’s assault on our nation’s public lands, Turtle Island Restoration Network filed extensive public comments opposing recommendations promoting oil and gas development and other damaging changes to our National Marine Sanctuary and National Marine Monument programs.

Andrew Ogden, Senior Attorney and Legal Program Director for Turtle Island, said, “Our nation’s Marine Sanctuaries and Monuments protect numerous endangered species, conserve important marine ecosystems, offer exciting opportunities for scientific research and exploration, educate the public about science and history, and preserve the cultural heritage of local communities and our nation. The renewable resources our marine conservation areas protect are essential to numerous sustainable industries, including tourism, education and well-managed fisheries. The protection of our Marine Monuments and Sanctuaries also provide conservation and economic benefits on a global scale including mitigating the effects of climate change. We must protect our Marine Monuments and Sanctuaries and the countless benefits they provide our nation and the global community.”

Responding to a Presidential Review

Two Executive Orders from President Trump ordered the Department of Commerce and the Department of the Interior to review 11 recently designated or expanded Marine Sanctuaries and Marine Monuments. The review would possibly eliminate or downsize the sanctuaries, or change the protections and prohibited activities for these sanctuaries. The review would also focus on the possible economic benefits of permitting exploration and development of oil and minerals in these protected “Public Oceans.”

Turtle Island’s comments to the Commerce Department, which manages Marine Sanctuaries and Monuments through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), disputed the President’s authority to unilaterally eliminate protections against energy exploration and development in the Marine Monuments and Sanctuaries under review.

Marine Monuments: Protecting marine resources

Protection of our marine resources is not a partisan issue. Marine Monuments created by Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama have protected vast areas of exceptional marine ecosystems, marine wildlife and seabirds, and unique natural oceanographic features.

To eliminate, downsize, or reduce the protections of our Marine Monuments would go against the Antiquities Act of 1906 and over a century of established law and practice.

The mission of the Marine National Monument Program is to “understand and protect the unique natural and cultural resources within the Marine National Monuments through the advancement of scientific research, exploration, and public education.” By respecting the scientific and cultural bases for the designation of each Marine Monument, we conserve the unique features and resources of each monument and protect against activities that would endanger the very resources each monument was created to protect.

National Marine Sanctuaries: Conservation and Economic Values

Backed by one of the nation’s strongest pieces of ocean conservation legislation, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the mission of the Marine Sanctuaries Program is to preserve the extraordinary scenic beauty, biodiversity, historical connections, and economic productivity of our most precious underwater treasures.

Beyond just protecting resources, our Marine Sanctuaries provide a livelihood to thousands of people — and an economic value greater than the benefits of energy exploration in those areas. From restaurants and hotels, to aquariums and kayak operators, the success of many businesses, millions of dollars in sales, and thousands of jobs directly depend on thriving National Marine Sanctuaries.

  • Across all National Marine Sanctuaries, about $8 billion annually is generated in local, coastal and ocean-dependent economies from diverse activities like commercial fishing, research, education, and recreation-tourist activities.
  • For example, whale-watching activities in California, including in the Marine Sanctuaries, alone generated almost $83 million dollars in 2009.
  • Further, from the four Marine Sanctuaries in California, commercial fisheries generated a yearly average of $144 million in gross regional output and created 1,840 jobs, and a yearly average of $213 million and 1,376 jobs from recreational fishing.

Peter Fugazzotto, Strategic Programs Director for Turtle Island, said, “Our Marine Monuments and Sanctuaries provide an enormous economic value in their unexploited state to fishing, tourism, research, and other ocean-dependent industries. This value goes far beyond the unsustainable benefits that those areas would provide through oil and mineral extraction.”

What We are Protecting

The Marine Monuments under review include:

  • Papahānaumokuākea (89.6 million acres)
  • Marianas Trench (60.9 million acres)
  • Pacific Remote Islands (55.6 million acres)
  • Rose Atoll (8.6 million acres)
  • Northeast Canyons and Seamounts (3.1 million acres)

The Marine Sanctuaries under review include:

  • Channels Islands (1,470 square miles)
  • Monterey Bay (6,094 square miles)
  • Cordell Bank (1,286 square miles)
  • Greater Farallones (3,295 square miles)
  • National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa (13,581 square miles including all of Rose Atoll Marine National Monument)

Turtle Island strongly opposes any recommendations that support reductions in the current size, protections, and management provisions of these important marine conservation areas.

To learn more, please read the public comments submitted by Turtle Island Restoration Network to NOAA: https://seaturtles.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Comments-re-DOC-NMS-MNM-Reviews.Corected-Final-7-26-2017.pdf