WASHINGTON • The United States has joined more than 20 countries in creating 40 new marine sanctuaries around the world to protect oceans from the threat of climate change and pollution.
President Barack Obama on Thursday designated the first US marine reserve in the Atlantic Ocean: 12,724 sq km known for underwater mountains and canyons off the coast of New England.
The various sanctuaries, unveiled at the high-level Our Ocean conference in Washington, which ended yesterday, limit commercial fishing, oil and gas drilling, and other human activities that affect ocean ecosystems. Altogether, countries at the conference announced new sanctuaries covering nearly 1.19 million sq km of ocean, an area the size of South Africa.
The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument designated by Mr Obama includes canyons as deep as the Grand Canyon in Arizona and underwater mountains higher than any in the east of the Rockies, according to Environment America, a federation of state-based environmental advocacy organisations.
Mr Obama, who recalled body- surfing in the Pacific Ocean while he was growing up in Hawaii, called the pledges at the conference a "pretty good down payment" but said bolder international action was needed.
"The notion that the ocean I grew up with is not something that I can pass on to my kids and my grandkids is unacceptable, it's unimaginable."
Last month, he expanded a massive reserve off the coast of Hawaii, the world's largest such protected area, as he works to cement his environmental legacy.
Opponents of the new Atlantic reserve have said it threatens the commercial seafood industry in the region. Mr Obama said it was designed to respect the fishing industry's role in the region's economy and history.
At the conference, Britain said it would double the area of ocean under marine protection around its overseas territories.
The announcement was made by British Foreign Office minister Alan Duncan, who said fully protected marine reserves are to be set up around the Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific, and St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and Ascension islands in the South Atlantic.
US actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who has championed environmental causes for years, called for action by world leaders and communities to protect vital marine ecosystems.
"Warming waters, acidification, plastic pollution, methane release, drilling, overfishing and the destruction of marine ecosystems like coral reefs are pushing our oceans to the very brink," he said.