A “Monumental” Boost for Endangered Species in the Pacific

President Obama recently announced plans to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to create the largest marine protected area in the world—larger than the states of Texas, California, Montana and New Mexico combined. That is great news for many reasons, not the least of which is that endangered whales, turtles, and seabirds really need a refuge. These species migrate great distances across the Pacific—but such long journeys put them at risk for contact with marine pollution, being caught by fishermen’s long lines and other threats.

Which imperiled species stand to benefit if the Pacific Remote Islands Monument is expanded? Here are just a few of the “biggies.”

Blue Whales

Blue whales are the largest animals ever to live on earth (Blue Whale Facts and Photos). Their tongues alone are larger than an elephant and they live longer than most animals, on average between 80 and 90 years. But there are only between 10,000 and 25,000 left in the world. They were hunted nearly to extinction for their oil in the twentieth century, and since receiving global protection they have made a modest recovery, but they have a long way to go. One of the biggest threats to these enormous animals is being struck by a ship.

A blue whale mother encourages her calf to break the water’s surface. (Painting by Larry Foster/National Geographic Creative)

Leatherback Sea Turtles

Leatherback sea turtles are the largest turtle species, often weighing up to a ton (Leatherback Facts and Photos). They can dive 4,200 feet under water and stay down for as long as 85 minutes. That comes in handy as they make their way 3,700 miles across the Pacific and then back again on their long, annual migrations. Leatherbacks used to be found almost all over the world, but now they are disappearing everywhere. One of their leading killers is plastic. They eat floating plastic debris mistaken for their favorite food—jellyfish. Some have been found to have almost 11 pounds (five kilograms) of plastic in their stomachs.

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A leatherback emerges from the sands of a remote, forgotten beach. (Photo by Michael Nichols/National Geographic Creative)


The albatross in flight is a majestic sight—it has the largest wingspan of any bird on the planet (Albatross Facts and Photos). They can go for hours, in fact, without even flapping their wings, simply by gliding on the ocean breeze. The black-footed albatross is in grave danger of extinction globally, but a few have been found near the Monument. Its biggest threat is tuna fishermen who catch them on their long lines of fishing hooks.

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An albatross glides effortlessly over the blue Pacific. (Photo by Maria Stenzel/National Geographic Creative)

The expanded Pacific Remote Islands Monument is bound to give these super-sized critters a “monumental” boost. Let’s hope the President makes it happen soon.

Read More by Monica Medina

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
Monica Medina is the Senior Director for International Ocean Policy at the National Geographic Society. She is determined to help save endangered wildlife and the last wild places in the ocean.