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Obama taps massive Pacific Ocean refuge

– Vowing to protect fragile marine life, President Barack Obama acted Tuesday to create the world’s largest ocean preserve by expanding a national monument his predecessor established in waters thousands of miles from the American mainland.

The designation for a remote stretch of the Pacific Ocean marks a major symbolic victory for environmentalists, who have urged the president to take action on his own to protect the planet as Congress turns its focus elsewhere. But the initiative will have limited practical implications because little fishing or drilling are taking place even without the new protections.

Protecting the world’s oceans and the vibrant ecosystems that thrive deep under the surface is a task that’s bigger than any one country, but the U.S. must take the lead, Obama said, announcing the initiative during an ocean conservation conference.

Obama hasn’t settled on the final boundaries for the expanded Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, and he will solicit input from anglers, scientists and conservation experts. Senior counselor John Podesta said that process would start immediately and wrap up in the near future.

A geographic analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts estimated that Obama could protect more than 780,000 square miles and far more if he included the waters around other U.S. islands in the Pacific Ocean.