IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Obama, DiCaprio Rally for World's Largest Ocean Sanctuary

Stretching from Hawaii to Samoa, the White House's proposed new marine sanctuary would be the biggest in the world.
Get more newsLiveon

President Barack Obama got a little help from Hollywood as he rallied support to carve out what could be the world’s largest marine sanctuary.

On Tuesday, the White House announced its intentions to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which would protect a large area of the Pacific Ocean from fishing and energy exploration.

Sign up for top Science news delivered direct to your inbox.

"Like Presidents Clinton and Bush before me, I’m going to use my authority as president to protect some of our most precious marine landscapes, just like we do for mountains, rivers and forests," Obama said in a recorded message at the U.S. State Department's "Our Ocean" conference on Tuesday.

In an official statement, the White House said that it would consider input from scientists, lawmakers and fishermen before "making decisions about the geographic scope" of any future marine sanctuaries.

According to details shared by senior White House officials with the Washington Post, the Obama administration is considering expanding the sanctuary from 87,000 square miles to around 782,000 square miles, which would create the largest marine sanctuary in the world in a swath of ocean stretching from Hawaii to Samoa.

The White House also called for federal agencies to develop a new program to combat illegal fishing and seafood fraud. The White House estimated that 20 percent of wild marine fish are caught illegally. In 2013, environmental non-profit Oceana found that 87 percent of fish labeled "red snapper" was actually 28 other species of fish.

Leonardo DiCaprio, who had previously pledged $3 million to Oceana, said on Tuesday that he would donate $7 million more to ocean preservation projects.

"If we don’t do something to save our oceans now, it won’t just be the sharks and whales that will suffer, it will be us and our children and our children's children," he said.

Obama's proposal expands on actions taken by former President George W. Bush. The proposal is expected to go into effect after a period of public comment over the summer.

Many of the U.S.-controlled islands near the Pacific sanctuary are sparsely populated, but the White House could face opposition from fisherman in the tuna trade, as well as Republicans wary of the president using his authority to drastically increase the size of federally protected lands.

--- NBC News' Catherine Chomiak and Peter Alexander contributed to this report.