WASHINGTON — Buried inside the $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill that will fund the federal government through September is a provision meant to protect the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument from future political meddling.

The bill includes language authored by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz that will allow the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to start the process of declaring the monument a national marine sanctuary, which will make it harder to roll back environmental protections via presidential executive order.

A silky shark is one of the apex predators found in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Courtesy of Jim Abernethy

The monument was first created by President George W. Bush in 2006 using the 1906 Antiquities Act and was subsequently expanded in 2016 by Hawaii-born president, Barack Obama, to create the world’s then-largest conservation area at 582,578 square miles.

President Donald Trump’s administration, however, considered shrinking Papahanaumokuakea as part of its nationwide review of monuments meant to benefit private industry.

Papahanaumokuakea was spared as part of the process, but Hawaii’s commercial fishing interests have continued to pressure the Trump administration to open up the monument to more fishing.

“A new sanctuary designation means more resources and stronger protections for Papahanaumokuakea,” Schatz said in a press release. “This will give us more opportunities to better understand and conserve one of our most important natural resources.”

According to NOAA, the process of creating a national marine sanctuary could take years, especially as the public and other stakeholders weigh in.

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