The Presidential Power of Marine National Monuments

Coral and Ulua found in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Image: NOAA

Much as our national parks on land are some of our greatest natural treasures, marine national monuments safeguard precious ecosystems and protect them now and for future generations.

  • The National Marine Sanctuary System encompasses more than 600,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters, and contains amazing cultural and historical resources, as well as vibrant ecosystems as diverse as coral reefs and kelp forests.

Marine national monuments are designated by presidential proclamation under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which authorizes the president to establish national monuments on federal lands that contain “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest.”

  • In 2000, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands were designated as an ecosystem reserve by President Bill Clinton.
  • In 2006, the area was renamed Papahānaumokuākea and was designated as the nation’s first marine national monument by President George W. Bush.
  • President Bush protected nearly 200,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean as conservation areas before leaving office: the Marianas Marine National Monument, the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument, and Rose Atoll Marine National Monument.
  • Subsequently, President Barack Obama supersized Papahānaumokuākea as well as created Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the coast of New England.

Why This Matters: Through the Antiquities Act, presidents have the power to create vital marine protected areas. Marine monuments also often take less time to create than marine sanctuaries (learn more about the differences here) and will be a needed tool to protect 30% of nature by 2030. One of the stories to watch in the Biden administration will be how the President might use the Antiquities Act to reach his ambitious conservation targets in our oceans.

FYI: Marine protected areas aren’t a one and done conservation win. As Harvard Law School explained:

“Our marine national monuments and marine sanctuaries protect over 1 million square miles of ocean ecosystems, preserve cultural resources, and provide opportunities for recreation and tourism. They are under threat of being reduced in size or opened to commercial fishing and other activities.”

During the Trump administration, our marine national monuments faced existential threats that sought to chip away at their levels of protected status. It’s a reminder that we must work diligently to elect leaders who will support strong conservation targets and work with the rest of the world to meet 30 by 30 goals.

Up Next

Portraits of Change: Climate Change Is Challenging Fishing in the U.S.

This week, we have featured this series of videos by the Environmental Defense Fund about the impacts climate change is having on the ocean as observed by the people who live and work there — fishermen and women. Their stories have been compelling and provided a sense of the ways that climate change is harming and shifting global fish stocks. 

Why This Matters:  On Tuesday, pursuant to President Biden’s climate executive order, NOAA announced: “an agency-wide effort to gather initial public input” on “how to make fisheries, including aquaculture, and protected resources more resilient to climate change.

Continue Reading 197 words

Portraits of Change: Women In Fishing Working For Sustainability

It’s not just men in the fishing sector who are impacted by climate change, overfishing, and COVID-19 — women are too.  Women like Alexia Jaurez of Sonora, Mexico, who is featured in this Environmental Defense Fund video, do the important work of monitoring the catch and the price, and most importantly determining how many more […]

Continue Reading 142 words
A Florida Seagrass Success Story — For Now

A Florida Seagrass Success Story — For Now

By Ashira Morris, ODP Staff Writer Last summer, Florida created its first aquatic preserve in over 30 years. The Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve protects about 400,000 acres of seagrass just north of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf coast.  These are part of the Gulf of Mexico’s largest seagrass bed and borders other existing preserves, creating a […]

Continue Reading 570 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.