When most people think about the areas managed by the Interior Department, they picture the iconic sun-soaked cliffs of the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, geysers erupting and bison dotting the wide swaths of grassland prairies in Yellowstone National Park, or the lingering fog on the Great Smoky Mountains.
Yet many of the vast areas under Interior’s stewardship are found along our coasts and in deep ocean canyon waters of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Interior’s blue portfolio includes more than 35,000 miles of coastline and 34 million acres in 88 marine and coastal National Parks, including many of America’s favorite beaches from Cape Cod and Cape Hatteras to the Golden Gate National Recreational Area and beyond to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We further protect 180 marine and coastal National Wildlife Refuges and 1,100 miles of coastline of the California Coastal National Monument. And the Department plays an important role in ensuring safe and responsible energy development in our coastal areas and offshore waters.
In the past two years, Interior invested more than $50 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to acquire and conserve nearly 20,000 acres of critical coastal lands for all Americans to enjoy. Interior’s responsibilities grew with the recent expansion of our nation’s two newest marine national monuments.
Yesterday, during the first day of the 3rd Our Ocean Conference, President Obama designated the first marine national monument in the Atlantic Ocean. The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument will protect 4,913 square miles of fragile deep-sea ecosystems located off the coast of Cape Cod National Seashore. By providing protections for this striking underwater landscape of mountains and canyons, the designation preserves critical ecosystems for deep-sea coral and endangered whales and sea turtles.
Last month, President Obama expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument off the coast of Hawaii, creating the world’s largest marine protected area at 582,578 square miles. The expansion provides critical protections for more than 7,000 marine species, including whales and sea turtles listed under the Endangered Species Act and black coral, the longest-living marine species in the world. It is also considered a sacred place for the Native Hawaiian community, playing a significant role in Native Hawaiian creation and settlement stories, and is used to practice important activities like traditional long-distance voyaging and wayfinding. Additionally, the monument expansion area contains shipwrecks and downed aircraft from the World War II Battle of Midway. Also, the Departments of the Interior and Commerce will draft a new agreement making the Office of Hawaiian Affairs a co-trustee in managing the monument.
Secretary of State John Kerry hosted the Our Ocean Conference to catalyze actions to protect our ocean from these threats and to empower a new generation to lead the way toward a healthy and sustainable ocean. This work is key because our oceans are facing increasing threats from climate change, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and marine pollution. Ocean acidification, ocean warming, and sea level rise threaten economic livelihoods, food sources, ocean biodiversity, and the integrity of coastal areas, tourism, and recreation.
The Department of the Interior aims to ensure that future generations will have healthy, resilient, and productive oceans and coasts. We cannot afford to take these treasured natural resources for granted.