Environmental Policy News

NOAA Considers Sanctuary in Waters Around Pacific Remote Islands

NOAA announced it is starting the process to potentially designate a new national marine sanctuary in the Pacific Remote Islands area, as directed by President Biden and affirmed by the Department of Commerce on March 24, 2023.

The proposed area in the central Pacific Ocean includes marine areas within the existing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, as well as currently unprotected submerged lands and waters, to the full extent of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, an area totaling about 770,000 square miles. Terrestrial areas are not included in the proposed sanctuary.

“The Biden-Harris Administration and Department of Commerce are committed to bold conservation goals through the America the Beautiful initiative,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “Sanctuary designation would bring to bear NOAA’s capacity and expertise in research and management of coastal and marine resources, maritime heritage and archaeology, and public education and outreach in order to protect the unique ecological and cultural resources of the Pacific Remote Islands.”

The atolls, shoals, seamounts, banks and reefs surrounding the Pacific Remote Islands are home to some of the most diverse and remarkable tropical marine ecosystems on the planet, and provide a haven for a host of wildlife, including corals, sharks, fish, marine mammals, seabirds and invertebrates.

“The Pacific Remote Islands ecosystems face persistent threats from hazards, such as marine debris, invasive species and climate change,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. “Designating this incredibly important area as a national marine sanctuary would complement and strengthen existing efforts to preserve the region’s natural, cultural and historic values.”

Designating the proposed area as a sanctuary would add the conservation benefits of a national marine sanctuary to the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument’s existing protections, and provide a stable management framework, a citizen advisory council and lasting protections that extend beyond the monument’s current boundaries.

“The proposed sanctuary would also be an opportunity to recognize and celebrate Indigenous cultural connections to the lands and waters of the area,” said Nicole LeBoeuf, director of NOAA’s National Ocean Service. “This region has a rich history, beginning with Pacific Island peoples whose proficiency with navigation and ocean wayfinding created a cultural network across the vastness of the Pacific.”

About the public comment period

The public is invited to comment on the proposed sanctuary designation through June 2, 2023, through the Federal eRulemaking Portal, www.regulations.gov, by searching for docket number NOAA-NOS-2023-0052. Comments may also be mailed if postmarked by June 2, 2023.

NOAA will host in-person public meetings, with an option to join virtually. During the meetings, NOAA will gather input on boundaries, compatible uses, threats a new sanctuary would address, how best to promote marine science and education initiatives and other topics as described in the Notice of Intent that NOAA published in the Federal Register. The input NOAA receives from the public will assist the agency with the preparation and release of draft designation documents, and in formulating alternatives for the draft environmental impact statement.

A detailed description of the proposed sanctuary, based on the nomination submitted by the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition, as well as additional information about opportunities to provide comment, can be found at https://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/pacific-remote-islands.

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