Jan 16, 2019 | Updated: 01:26 PM EST

U.S. Territory Comes Under Strict Protection—Species Needing Sanctuary Look To the South Pacific

Sep 26, 2014 10:44 PM EDT


Before the world had modern technology and chemical wonders, the world had guano. Yes, you're thinking of the right substance. Excrement from flying creatures, most notably the potent white substance dropped by sea birds as they nest. But why was it so important? You might ask. Well, it turns out that it makes for a very effective fertilizer, and it's the reason why the U.S. claimed fifty islands in the South Pacific in 1856.

Over its short-lived history, the United States has come to acquire a small list of territories outside of its continental limits. And as it happens some are more well-protected than others.

During the Guano Islands Act of 1856, the United States acquired a region of South Pacific islands known as "Palmyra", an atoll of roughly 50 low-lying islands surrounding Kingman Reef, just off of the coast of Hawaii. And now that the guano has dried up, and farmers are turning towards ammonia-based fertilizers created in the early 1900's, the United States has developed other plans for the small secluded islands.

This past Thursday, Sept. 25 2014, United States Secretary of State John Kerry announced the expansion of a marine protected area (MPA), which in size is three times larger than the state of California. The new expansion an amendment to the Pacific remote Islands Marine National Monument covers nearly 490,000 square miles, and is six times larger than previously was. And it's a sign towards the U.S.'s greater efforts in conservation on a global scale.

"The Monument is an important part of the widespread collection of marine and terrestrial life protected areas on the planet, sustaining many endemic species including corals, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, seabirds, water birds, land birds, insects, and vegetation not found elsewhere" President Obama said. "The U.S. EEZ areas are adjacent to Wake and Jarvis Islands, and Johnston Atoll contain significant objects of scientific interest that are part of this highly pristine deep sea and open ocean ecosystem with unique biodiversity."

Current estimates state that between 15 and 44 percent of the species found surrounding these islands in underwater mountains known as "seamounts" are endemic to that area, and almost 10 percent of the invertebrates are entirely new to science.

President Obama, also stated that the pristine waters were a vital consideration in the decision-making process, as they give scientific researchers a great baseline for further research on how human activity and disastrous events effect our marine ecosystems.

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