merica’s current election fiasco had
President Barak Obama worried. His
legacy was in shambles. Everything he
worked for was going to be dismantled by a
new Republican Trump administration. All
Barak would be remembered for now is the
color of his skin. Which wasn’t really a bad
thing, but for Barak, it just wasn’t enough.
So in one last act of defiance, in his one
last shot at a true legacy, in his one last act
as a president who surfs, President Barak
Obama became a surfer once
again and did something grand.
He created the biggest environ-
mentally protected area on the
face of the earth, more than half
a million square miles. And most
of it pristine Ocean. In the North-
western Hawaiian Islands lies the
Papahānaumokuākea Marine Na-
tional Monument. Two things: it is
incredibly hard to pronounce and
it is a long-term protection gam-
bit for a vast array of marine life
and areas of cultural significance.
Papahānaumokuākea was about
140,000 square miles, which was
still pretty damn good, consider-
ing that’s larger than every na-
tional park in the US combined.
But Barak Obama, perhaps so
he could sleep at night, really
stepped it up. He enlarged it by 582,578
square miles of land and sea. Twice the
size of Texas.
With a wink to surfer’s everywhere, The
President said “It is in the public interest
to preserve the marine environment”. And
he isn’t just paying lip service to the idea.
During his term as President, he’s cre-
ated nearly 30 other national monuments,
spanning North America.
According to Josh Earnest, White House
press secretary, Obama “would be happy
to sign into law a piece of legislation that
would have protected these waters, but
we didn’t see that kind of legislative activ-
ity in this Congress, so the President made
more effective use of his executive author-
It’s for good reason, too: the Ocean keeps
us alive. We wouldn’t exist without it, so its
protection should be a top priority.
Sustainable fishing, stricter dumping rules,
should be the norm, not the exception. We
shouldn’t be shitting where we eat and in
a literal sense, we’re doing just that. “The
oceans are the untold story when it comes
to climate change, and we have to feel a
sense of urgency when it comes to pro-
tecting the ocean that sustains us,” Sen.
Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told the Washing-
The protected area increased 4 times in
size. So what, exactly, does the monument
protect itself from? In a nutshell, no one
can take anything from the area, at least
on a commercial venture. That means no
commercial fishing and no deep-sea min-
ing, including mineral extraction. Recrea-
tional fishing is still permitted, but a permit
is required, just like anywhere else.
Of course, like any story, there are two
sides. People who make their living on
fishing boats aren’t happy about the newly-
expanded protection area. Longline fisher-
men lobbied hard against it. “We move all
over the ocean, in the way the fish move,”
Jim Cook, co-owner of POP Fishing and
Marine, told The Washington Post. Ac-
cording to Cook, more than half of
federal waters are now closed to
Federal officials, though, estimate
that only about 5 percent of com-
mercial ventures will be affected,
since most of them catch upwards
of half their fish in international wa-
But it truly remains an area
that deserves protection. With-
in the new boundaries of the
Monument lies an extraordinary
amount of things worth protecting.
The world’s oldest living animal, for
example–a black coral somewhere
around 4,500-years-old. Accord-
ing to a researcher at the NOAA,
every one of 50 biological samples
taken on expeditions to the area
last year contained new species or species
that weren’t known to live on earth. “We’re
seeing a lot of life, a lot of new life and a lot
of very old life,” he said. “Things have not
been disturbed for a very long time.”
And now, thanks to Obama, it looks like
things will remain that way for generations
to come. For our surfing President, a lega-
cy fulfilled indeed.
How Papahānaumokuākea Marine National
Monu ent redeemed the President’s s rfing soul.
1 8 SURFTIME