By Brooks Hays
"The ocean is essential for maintaining the environment in which we all live," said John Kerry.
It's a good day for oceans -- the Pacific Ocean, anyway. The small island nation of Kiribati announced today that it would set aside and protect a large chunk of the Pacific Ocean, forbidding fishing and other commercial activities.
The news comes just as reports broke that President Obama would dramatically expand an already protected portion of the Pacific Ocean south and to the west of Hawaii, apparently doubling the amount of preserved ocean water in the world.
The area of preserved ocean established by Kiribati is roughly the size of California and will enjoy its first official day of protection on January 1, 2015.
Like Obama's plans, Kiribati is expanding an already protected area. Obama's plans will see the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument -- first created by President George W. Bush -- grow from 87,000 square miles to nearly 782,000 square miles. Kiribati will increase the size of its Phoenix Islands Protected Area -- which at 155,000 square miles in size, is already one of the largest marine protected areas in the world.
The area around the Phoenix Islands -- which offer some of the world's most pristine coral reefs -- has been protected from fishing pressure since 2006, but nearby waters have seen an uptick in tuna farming activity in recent years.
"We will also close the area around the southern Line Islands to commercial fishing to allow the area to recover," said Kiribati President Anote Tong, who announced the new preserve yesterday in Washington at the Our Ocean conference hosted by the U.S. State Department.
"The ocean is essential for maintaining the environment in which we all live," Kerry said at the conference, where he called on world leaders to do more to protect the world's marine habitats. "The importance of the ocean for life itself cannot be overstated."