The 45-day public comment period on a proposed national marine sanctuary for the Pacific Remote Islands is now closed.
Hundreds of people testified to provide comments during public meetings held last month in Hawaiʻi, CNMI (Saipan, Rota, and Tinian), Guam, and American Samoa. More than 50,000 written comments were submitted.
The PRI Coalition, an organization aimed at protecting the cultural, historic and natural resources of the PRI and its surrounding waters, attended all of the public meetings. The national marine sanctuary nomination was submitted by the PRI Coalition.
“We were encouraged to hear support for expanding protections for the PRI and its surrounding waters,” said Hoku Cody, PRI Coalition Campaign Manager. “We also deeply appreciated all the meaningful engagements we had coming together as a community of Pacific Islanders to talk story about protecting our oceans for the future generations.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hosted the virtual and in-person public meetings and collected public comments online and by mail. They are considering whether to designate a national marine sanctuary for about 777,000 square miles in and around the PRI, which would make it the world’s largest protected ocean area.
Members of the industrial fishing industry have expressed concern that a sanctuary designation would significantly impact fisheries. Advocates for the designation say it would preserve an intact cultural voyaging seascape, and protect abundant populations of wildlife in the face of threats like deep-sea mining, climate change, and overfishing.
The proposed designation:
- Encourages a co-management structure that includes the voices of Indigenous Pacific Islanders in the decision-making process.
- Advocates for a culturally-appropriate process for renaming the area.
- Expands protections across the entire 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone in the Pacific Remote Islands Area around Howland and Baker Islands and Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll.
NOAA will review the comments and begin developing a draft management plan and Environmental Impact Statement. NOAA will schedule additional public meetings and request comment on these draft materials, providing the public with an additional chance to give input and shape the sanctuary designation.