August 26, 2016

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A spinner dolphin breaches in Kure Atoll lagoon, in the newly expanded national monument. ©David Littschwager

Bipartisan progress has been made in the U.S., but we must aggressively build on it here and around the world. In his second term, President George W. Bush created the world’s largest marine protected area – in the Pacific with Papahanaumokuakea, Marianas Trench, Pacific Remote Islands, and Rose Atoll national monuments. Mrs. Laura Bush hoped they would unleash a “new wave of parks” around the world.

Just in the last few years, Britain created Pitcairn Island Marine Reserve, the island nation of Palau protected 80 percent of its waters, and New Zealand and Chile have created large marine parks. President Obama has now raised the ocean stakes by taking protection to the borders of our exclusive economic zone around the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

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Beach morning glory grows along a placid shore. © Susan Middleton

Now let’s finish the job. In New England, a cape was named after the cod that were so plentiful a century ago and are now absent. Cod are still found in places such as Cashes Ledge, and pristine areas including Seamounts and Canyons 150 miles off the coast that should become permanently protected marine reserves. 

In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and decades of mining and agricultural wastes dumped into the Gulf of Mexico, can’t we at least protect Ewing Bank and other areas to help the Gulf recover? Critically important areas off California and Alaska deserve full protection. Resources for management and enforcement must be provided, and the High Seas, the blue heart of the planet, is a largely unregulated global commons ripe for international protection to safeguard planetary resilience and basic life support.

From 1872 when the first national park called Yellowstone (named after a mighty river) was created to the present day, there have been naysayers to oppose the creation of national parks and monuments. But Americans took the longer view and protected our natural, historic and cultural resources for future generations.

As we listened to Hawaiians in a public hearing on Oahu appeal to their leaders to expand what is now the largest marine protected area in the United States and world, we heard one of the most respected Hawaiians say, “with this expansion, we’ll be bold in conserving our resources and cultural heritage for future generations; let the rest of America and world now be bold.”

He is right. Let’s make this century the Blue Centennial.

Dr. Sylvia Earle is an oceanographer, National Geographic Society explorer in residence, author, and former Chief Scientist of NOAA. She is featured in the Emmy Award winning documentary film, Mission Blue, released on Netflix in 46 countries. John Bridgeland was former Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, member of the National Park System Advisory Board, and co-leader of the cabinet-level review of climate change in 2001. Both are part of the forthcoming NGS Blue Centennial film produced by Bob and Sarah Nixon.

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