Ocean monuments face possible loss of protection

The Trump administration is considering rolling back federal protections for a number of national monuments. While most are on land and relatively accessible, three are deep below the ocean’s surface and many miles from the mainland: the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument and the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, both in the central Pacific Ocean, and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument off the coast of New England. While most people will never explore the canyons and reefs of these watery realms, their value is hard to overestimate, according to Stanford scientists with years of experience exploring and studying these and adjacent areas.

The Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment spoke with marine experts Rob Dunbar, Fiorenza Micheli, Stephen Palumbi and Tim White about potential impacts from a loss of protections, including the resumption of commercial fishing in currently off-limits areas.


Stanford biology graduate student Tim White and and Kosta Stamoulis of the University of Hawaii track a gray reef shark within the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. (Image credit: Palmyra Atoll Research Consortium)

Why are protected ocean areas such as these so important?

Micheli: These are the only protected areas that are large enough to effectively protect highly mobile species, including sharks and seabirds. Within protected areas, fish and invertebrates can also attain large size. These large animals are ecologically important, but also support fisheries productivity and value through their high reproductive output and replenishment of fishing grounds, and their high value when they leave the protected areas and are caught.

Dunbar: These areas are home to large and very long-lived animals such as deep-sea corals and sponges. They provide habitat space for all kinds of smaller and mobile animals like fish and seem to be important nursery grounds for a number of key fish species….

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