The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument is set to become the largest ecological preserve in the world.
A graphic from The Pew Charitable Trusts puts that size in perspective — the area will be more than 3.5 times the size of California, 10 times the size of Iowa and 105 times the size of Connecticut.
The monument was created by President George W. Bush in 2006 to preserve the vegetation and wildlife in the area off the coast of Hawaii, and this week, President Barack Obama announced that he would expand the area to a total of more than 580,000 square miles.
Having monument status means that commercial fishing and new mining is banned, but scientific research is allowed, as is recreational fishing with a permit. Native Hawaiian cultural practices that involve removing fish or other resources will continue.
The White House has said that expanding the monument will help protect more than 7,000 species and preserve a sacred place for Native Hawaiians. Matt Rand, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Global Ocean Legacy Project, told the PBS NewsHour Weekend that the area also contains the oldest living organism on earth: a 4,500-year-old deep sea coral.
Areas that encompass about 2 percent of the ocean are marine protected areas, but many scientists recommend protecting a greater area. A recent analysis of 144 previous studies on ocean protection found that more than half recommended designating at least 30 percent of the ocean as marine protected areas.