Biden Should Expand Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Sara Maxwell

Sara Maxwell is an associate professor at the University of Washington on the Bothell Campus focused on sustainable solutions that balance human uses of the oceans while preserving healthy marine ecosystems. All research has been approved and conducted under U.S. Fish and Wildlife Permit No. 12533-22003.

As the red-footed booby soars over Palmyra Atoll, flashes of clear sky are replaced by the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean. The bird dives for fish, flashes of their scales reflecting in the water.

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This isn’t just an imagined scene — it’s a literal bird’s-eye view from my recent research on Palmyra, which has no year-round human population but plenty of large seabirds, the focus of my scientific work.

Thanks to advances in technology, my team and I were able to attach tiny cameras and GPS trackers to the seabirds’ backs to study and learn far more about their behavior than ever before.

One of the biggest takeaways from several weeks on the island with an interdisciplinary team is just how far the seabirds — and many other species like dolphins and whales — travel to meet their needs.

Some species, like sooty terns, traveled 300 miles in less than 17 hours, filling their bellies with food far out at sea, then sprinting back to their nest to feed their chicks and switch places with their partners.

A red-footed booby chick on a nest on Palmyra Atoll in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, home to large breeding colonies of seabirds. Adult seabirds regularly use the unprotected waters beyond the monument to forage and feed their chicks, leaving them at risk of entanglement in fishing gear and other threats. Scientists argue expanding the monument would help protect these seabirds and other long-ranging species like whales, sharks, and fish.
A red-footed booby chick on a nest on Palmyra Atoll in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, home to large breeding colonies of seabirds. Adult seabirds regularly use the unprotected waters beyond the monument to forage and feed their chicks, leaving them at risk of entanglement in fishing gear and other threats. Scientists argue expanding the monument would help protect these seabirds and other far-ranging species like whales, sharks, and fish. Sara Maxwell, University of Washington

While we are still learning why birds choose where they forage, sometimes they are just like us. We watched footage of a red-footed booby meandering around Palmyra, taking its time before heading back to its nest. Our theory is that it was digesting more of the meal before going back to feed its chick.

As a mother, this is a familiar move to me: I have totally hung out in the corner of the kitchen to eat a cookie where my kid can’t see me and I don’t have to share.

Palmyra is about as remote as you can get on Earth: the atoll is about 3,300 miles away from both North America and New Zealand. It is part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, protected from harmful human activities like deep-sea mining and industrial fishing.

The protections extend 50 nautical miles from the island shore. We now know that many of the seabirds, along with other species of whales, dolphins and fish, regularly travel much farther than those current limits.

Health Of The Land

Right now, President Biden has the opportunity to expand two areas of the monument, including Palmyra, to the full extent of U.S. waters or 200 nautical miles. If he uses the presidential power granted under the Antiquities Act, this extension would increase the protected waters by approximately 685,000 square kilometers, making it the largest highly protected marine area in the world.

Our recent research on the importance of marine protected areas from around the world – and from the Pacific Remote Islands specifically – further underscores the importance of large protected areas like this, particularly when the movements of marine species like seabirds are taken into account.

The Pacific Remote Islands monument is home to hundreds of species from the seafloor to the skies that form an interconnected ecosystem, including more than 50 species of seabirds. To ensure the continued health of the land and nearshore areas that are already a part of the monument, we need to expand the protection to the deeper waters on which they depend.

Researchers on Palmyra Atoll place a GPS tracker on a red-footed booby in order to study and learn their behavior and movements throughout the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument and beyond. Advances in technology have allowed marine scientists to study and learn far more about animal behavior than ever before.
Researchers on Palmyra Atoll place a GPS tracker on a red-footed booby in order to study and learn their behavior and movements throughout the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument and beyond. Advances in technology have allowed marine scientists to study and learn far more about animal behavior than ever before. Sara Maxwell, University of Washington

The seabirds are an important part of this complex web of relationships: large fish like tuna trap smaller forage fish at the surface, allowing birds to forage on them. In turn, the birds bring vital nutrients back to land through excrement, supporting the corals, fish, mantas and other species that thrive on the reef and surrounding regions.

Reef ecosystems with healthy seabird populations are much healthier than those without them, because of this nutrient input. Seabirds are also an important part of healthy human communities: they have deep meaning across many Indigenous cultures, particularly in the Central Pacific, and their incredible beauty, movements, and ecological uniqueness have inspired and fascinated humans around the world.

Expanded monument protections would provide more comprehensive conservation throughout their range.

The more we learn about the seabirds in the Pacific, the more we understand that their survival is dependent on hundreds of nautical miles of ocean. Right now, the range of many seabirds extends far beyond current protected area boundaries. It’s not just a matter of miles, though, we also must reduce our impact on the broader ecosystem.

Many species of seabirds around the world, including in the Central Pacific, are declining because industrial fishing boats catch the squid, fish, and other food the birds need, and because the birds get entangled in fishing gear. Expanded monument protections would provide more comprehensive conservation throughout their range.

Expanding the monument would allow the seabirds I study the opportunity to thrive, soaring and diving for an abundance of fish to bring home to their chicks. By extending the boundaries of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, these seabirds can truly spread their wings.

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About the Author

Sara Maxwell

Sara Maxwell is an associate professor at the University of Washington on the Bothell Campus focused on sustainable solutions that balance human uses of the oceans while preserving healthy marine ecosystems. All research has been approved and conducted under U.S. Fish and Wildlife Permit No. 12533-22003.


Latest Comments (0)

If the Chinese don’t seize them first. Could soon be a disputed area.

outlawmotorcyclegang · 1 month ago

YES

Nonna · 1 month ago

OPPOSEFrom Wikipedia:"Public entry to the islands is by special-use permit from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and is generally restricted to scientists and educators."Just like Papahana... the average taxpaying citizen can't go there. I can't take my sailboat there or even cruise thru the "monument". The only people allowed are these so called cultural practitioners, govn't wonks and the military.I'm not in favor of oil, gas, mining, fishing or any other resource exploitation. But if you're going to lockout the average citizen - just because - I say NAY.

MrOkakopa · 1 month ago

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