The Aleutian Islands marine ecosystem deserves designation as Alaska’s first National Marine Sanctuary, according to a formal nomination spearheaded by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and several Alaska and national marine conservation organizations. Although more than half of Alaska’s lands receive permanent federal protection, virtually none of Alaska’s federal waters receive comparable protective status.
The Aleutians marine ecosystem is one of the most ecologically important on the planet, supporting the largest populations of marine mammals, seabirds, fish and shellfish in the nation and one of the largest anywhere in the world. Yet, Aleutian waters face serious and growing threats from overfishing, oil and gas development and increasing shipping with scant protection. These threats are, in turn, aggravated by the growing effects of climate change, including rising sea-level and ocean acidification.
“The Aleutians are one of the most spectacular and productive marine ecosystems in the world but has been in decline for decades, and needs our urgent attention,” said Richard Steiner, a member of the PEER Board of Directors and a retired University of Alaska professor of marine conservation. “If the Obama administration is serious about taking big, bold steps to conserve our oceans, this is the place and this is the time. An Aleutians National Marine Sanctuary would bring integrated, permanent and effective measures to halt further deterioration and begin to restore this extraordinary ocean ecosystem.”
The proposed sanctuary would contain all federal waters along the entire Aleutian Islands archipelago (from 3 to 200 nautical miles north and south of the islands) to the Alaska mainland, including federal waters off the Pribilof Islands and Bristol Bay, an area of approximately 554,000 square nautical miles, making it the largest marine protected area in the nation, and one of the largest in the world.