Public Comment Period for Marine Protected Areas Ends
WASHINGTON (August 15, 2017) – The public comment period for a Department of Commerce review of 11 marine national monuments and national marine sanctuaries closes today. Executive Order 13795, “Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy,” signed on April 28, 2017, directed the Department of Commerce to conduct a review of five marine national monuments and six national marine sanctuaries designated or expanded since April 28, 2007.
Mark Salvo, Vice President for Landscape Conservation, issued the following statement:
“This review is just a thinly-veiled excuse to lay the groundwork for ramping up unnecessary offshore oil and gas development in some of the most vital marine habitats in U.S. waters.
“Reducing protections for marine monuments and sanctuaries would sell out marine wildlife and sensitive ecosystems, jeopardizing the invaluable public resources these places were established to protect. It would also disregard the overwhelming public support for conserving essential wildlife habitats on our public lands and waters.
“Drilling in these waters could threaten countless imperiled species, including marine mammals, seabirds, sea turtles and fish. Our oceans face too many pressures – from climate change, overfishing and pollution, to name a few – to risk shrinking or eliminating these protected areas. The only appropriate outcome of this review is to retain intact all existing legal safeguards for marine wildlife and their habitats.”
- Executive Order 13795 instructs the Secretary of Commerce to conduct a review of 11 marine national monuments and national marine sanctuaries designated or expanded within the last 10 years. This review includes the designation and expansion of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands in the Pacific Ocean, as well as the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, the first such monument in the Atlantic, which protect some of the most diverse and threatened ecosystems on Earth.
- The marine protected areas under review are havens for imperiled species of whales, sea turtles, sharks, seals, sea otters, and many other wildlife species. Many of them support commercially and recreationally important fish stocks and are critically important breeding and foraging habitat for seabirds. However, the president’s executive order makes no mention of the conservation value of these marine habitats or their significant economic benefits to the commercial and recreational fishing industries, as well as tourism-based economies that depend on these designations.
- According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, national marine sanctuaries alone generate approximately $8 billion annually to ocean-dependent economies from recreation, tourism, fishing and research. Moreover, a recent valuation of global ecosystem services estimated that coastal shelves are worth $1,061.07 per acre per year, while coral reefs are worth even more at $168,209.39 per acre per year. Extrapolating these values, the eleven marine protected areas under review provide ecosystem services worth between $441.9 billion and $70.1 trillion annually.
- The same executive order requiring administrative review of marine protection areas also bars the Secretary of Commerce from designating or expanding any sanctuaries without a full assessment of their resource extraction potential.
- The executive order also purports to rescind President Obama’s withdrawal of Arctic and Atlantic waters. In November 2016, the Obama administration excluded the Arctic Ocean from offshore leasing plans through 2022. In December 2016, President Obama invoked the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to declare a permanent ban on offshore drilling in large areas of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.
- The order includes a review of safety regulations adopted following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, as well as rules for drilling in the Arctic. Per media reports, changes to the leasing regulations could prompt a regulatory process (including a public comment period), which could be litigated.
- Finally, the order also directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to reconsider its technical guidance established to protect marine mammals such as whales and dolphins from the dangerous impacts of seismic testing along with a review of other protective rules.
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