Sometimes it’s the things we don’t notice that are the most deadly.
The movement of the pawn on the chessboard. The distracted driver answering a text. A black widow hidden in the shadows.
Headlines about President Donald Trump’s anti-environmental initiatives have focused on the big targets: the abrupt withdrawal from the Paris Climate agreement, the potential loss of wild landscapes like Bears Ear and Giant Sequoia national monuments, and pro-oil appointments to positions that are by definition supposed to defend our natural resources.
A casual observer might note Trump’s opening gambit is taking aim at removing regulations to further a fossil fuel first agenda.
But something flying beneath the radar screen might be even more dangerous.
Buried in Trump’s Executive Order to review 27 national monument designations under the Antiquities Act is an examination of five marine national monuments — including the Papahanau- mokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
These monuments combine to protect more than 215 million acres from the waters off Cape Cod in the Atlantic to canyons and trenches in the Pacific Ocean. They preserve 5,000-year old corals, the deepest place on the Earth, and habitat for more than 7,000 species. The monuments were created and expanded by a Republican and a Democratic president, both recognizing beyond party affiliations the value of these protected areas.
Studies show protecting large areas of our oceans from human influence is good for conservation and for fishermen. Scientists suggest protecting at least 30 percent of oceans worldwide.
These monuments are providing a tangible service.
But, if Trump’s mandated review is merely a thin-veiled formality to dismantle the five marine national monuments, we’ve got a bigger problem far beyond a bald-faced grab for oil and gas profits: removing monument protections may accelerate extinctions of animals in American waters.
We don’t need to protect these marine monuments so we can get pretty postcard photos of tropical islands and scuba divers in shafts of light. We need to protect these waters so animals won’t go extinct. It’s that simple.
Here’s are some of the animals these monuments help protect:
>> The most endangered species of sea turtle: the Kemp’s ridley.
>> The world’s most endangered duck: the Laysan Duck.
>> America’s most endangered seal: the Hawaiian monk seal.
>> Three of the world’s top ten most endangered whales: Fin, sei and sperm whales.
What’s at stake here quite simply is the survival of iconic American species of sea turtles, whales, and seabirds. Removing existing protections will push these animals one step closer to extinction.
These wildlife species are already facing grave threats to their continued existence. The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle has still not fully recovered after the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Hawaiian monk seals have been found bludgeoned to death on sandy beaches. And California’s driftnet fishery is allowed to continue despite its ongoing problem with entangling and drowning sperm whales.
Any plan to remove existing protections for endangered species while they are still fighting for their survival is a bad plan.
Join the fight for the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, the Hawaiian monk seal, the sperm whale and the Laysan duck. Because extinction is forever.
Peter Fugazzotto, strategic programs director of Turtle Island Restoration Network, has walked leatherback sea turtle nesting beaches in Papua New Guinea, swam alongside dolphins in Hawaii, and avoided sea snakes in the Togian Sea.