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President Obama stood in front of crystal blue Pacific waters opening up to a pristine natural beach in the Midway Atoll as part of his continued push to highlight the perils of climate change and a push for conservation on Thursday.
Senior Advisor Brian Deese said the president has tried to use “all the tools that he has at his disposal to try and raise the profile of this issue.”
The trip to the remote island territories focused attention on a remote stretch of coastal land that the White House said is both “spectacular as an ecosystem” and “hallowed ground” shortly after a golf cart tour of the island’s World War II memorial and unique wildlife. Last week, Obama expanded the boundaries of the Papahānaumokuākea National Monument, which includes the Midway Atoll, making it the largest marine protected area in the world.
The White House said the president snorkeled with friends off the coast of the Atoll to see firsthand some of the 250 species of invertebrate and fish that surround the atoll. The president observed four giant sea turtles, a threatened species, sunbathing on a beach without a single human, basking, he said, because waters had become chilly from the approaching hurricane.
“You guys see those turtles,” President Obama said to the small group of reporters who had accompanied him to Midway, “Unbelievable, right?”
Blue skies streaked with lines of white clouds showed no signs of the bad weather that had brought downpours to the island the last few days.
The president’s golf cart rolled past a white tern “orphanage” where the chicks and eggs are brought to be hand reared to protect the population.
One of the tour guides explained the birds lay their eggs on bare branches where the chicks hatch and spend their lives. Parents will often times catch smelt from the nearby waters and feed them to the chicks, sometimes between two and five in a feeding.
The Midway Atoll is home to seven thousand marine species, many threatened, one of the reasons the president designated the newly protected area.
“This is going to be a precious resource for generations to come,” Obama said, “Twenty years from now, 40 years from now, 100 years from now, this is a place where people can still come and see what a place like this looks like when its not overcrowded or destroyed by human populations.”
And press Secretary Josh Earnest added that, unlike last year’s trip to Alaska, “this trip is personal. This is the president’s home state. The president has written extensively and beautifully about his connection to the land and these waters.”
Bob Peyton, the refuge manager for the memorial, spent time briefing the President at the Midway Atoll area at the Visitors Center. They stood in front of a giant map showing the newly preserved Papahanaumokuakea National Monument. The area is roughly twice the size of the state of Texas.
The President also took a few moments to pay homage to the Americans killed in the Battle of Midway. He first stood with his tour guide, Marine National Monuments Superintendent Matt Brown, as they gazed at a large gravestone with three stars at the top and a large inscription: "Midway".
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Behind it, the eastern portion of the island where many of the planes used in the Battle of Midway departed stretched in the distance.
“Amazing courage,” President Obama said, “Had it not been for the courage and bravery of those airman, we might not have seen the tide turn.”
The Battle of Midway came just six months after Pearl Harbor and the U.S. defeated Japan.
Obama and the golf cart tour also drove past a set of World War Two buildings; including the Old Command Center and seaplane hangar.
The visit underscores a point the President has been making at events in Lake Tahoe and Hawaii over the last 36 hours and throughout his second term, the connection between conservation and climate change.
Later today, the President heads to China for the G20 summit, where climate change will again be on the agenda. The US and China could both announce they will finalize ratification of the Paris Climate agreement