Call for Obama to Declare First Alaskan Marine Monuments
100,000 Sign Petition Seeking Permanent Protections for At-Risk Alaskan Waters
Washington, DC — President Obama’s first extended visit to Alaska coincides with release of a Care2 petition signed by more than 100,000 people asking that he use his executive powers to designate the first Marine National Monuments in Alaskan waters, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). While more than half of Alaska’s lands enjoy permanent federal protection, none of Alaska’s federal offshore waters receive comparable protective status.
Half of the nation’s entire shoreline and three-fourths of its total continental shelf are in Alaska. This vast area hosts some of the most abundant populations of fish and marine life in the world ocean. But this ecological treasure trove is at growing risk from climate change, overfishing, pollution, increased shipping, and offshore oil drilling. In addition, many Alaska marine mammal, seabird, and fish populations are in decline, including some that have become threatened or endangered species.
The Care 2 petition was authored by Richard Steiner, a member of the PEER Board of Directors and a retired University of Alaska professor of marine conservation, who said “Designating marine monuments would be the only viable means for permanently shielding Alaska’s offshore waters, whales, polar bears, walruses, seals, sea lions, sea otters, seabirds, fish, cold-water corals, and coastal communities from the cascading effects of climate change combined with marine ecological degradation. President Obama cannot leave office with a complete environmental legacy without addressing Alaska’s fragile and unraveling offshore ecosystems.” The petition was forwarded today directly to The White House.
President Obama is attending a two-day summit of the Arctic Council along with 400 representatives from Arctic nations to discuss climate and adaptation issues. Rapid ecological changes in the Arctic, such as loss of sea ice, growing acidity and salinity are imperiling an area that serves as the planet’s marine breadbasket. This spring, the U.S. began its two-year stint chairing the 8-nation Arctic Council.
Steiner and PEER have criticized current piecemeal marine management as insufficient to arrest what may result in spiraling declines in marine diversity and productivity. They are urging the creation of three Marine National Monuments in the Aleutians, Bering Strait and Arctic Ocean. Monument status would permanently prohibit offshore drilling, restrict trawl fishing, safely manage shipping, reduce marine debris and oil spills, enhance marine science, and ensure the recovery and sustainability of these national marine ecosystems while safeguarding salmon fisheries and marine subsistence in those designated areas.
One year ago in August 2014, they circulated to other environmental organizations, as well as the White House, a proposal and rationale for designating three Alaskan Marine National Monuments using presidential powers under the Antiquities Act. In December, they also formally nominated an Aleutian Islands National Marine Sanctuary to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but NOAA declined to move forward with that nomination citing local political opposition.
“Thus far, the major Obama initiative affecting Alaskan waters has been to open the Chukchi Sea to drilling for oil and gas – which only aggravates the effects of climate change and contributes to the ecological stress straining the Arctic,” stated Jeff Ruch, whose organization is suing the Obama administration to force it to disclose the nature and efficacy of offshore drilling safety standards contained in the permits issued to Royal Dutch Shell. “It remains to be seen whether the Obama tenure will be a net positive or negative for the Alaskan Outer Continental Shelf.”