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Expanding marine sanctuary is meant to save ocean from mass extinction

President Barack Obama pledged Thursday to expand the largest ocean sanctuary to 490,000 square miles, six times its current size. The proclamation will make the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument completely off-limits to commercial fishing and deep sea drilling.

The sanctuary is comprised of a group of islands in the south central Pacific Ocean: Howland Island, Baker Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Wake Island, Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef, all 700 to 2,000 miles south to southwest of Honolulu, Hawaii.

Hari Sreenivasan spoke to Elliott Norse, chief scientist at the Marine Conservation Institute, on Thursday’s PBS NewsHour about the effects of the designation.

The president’s promise to protect this pristine landscape is tied to climate change. According to the most recent National Climate Assessment, climate change poses a serious threat to the world’s marine life. Rising temperatures mean warmer waters, and excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere sinks into the ocean, raising the waters’ acidity. The ocean’s acidity has increased 30 percent since pre-industrial times, according to the report.

In 2011, the “State of the Oceans” report revealed that the ocean is facing a mass extinction. The rising acidity and temperatures have been deadly to marine life from corals and shellfish, down to tiny Pacific “sea butterflies.” The PBS NewsHour has been following how ocean acidification has impacted marine life and the Americans who depend on them.

Sreenivasan reported on the shrinking shellfish numbers in the Pacific Northwest:

And the disappearing coral reefs:

In 2013, the NewsHour found that Alaska’s famous crabs were not immune to the changing ocean either:

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