Thousands of miles off America's shores, an ocean preserve flush with rare seabirds, turtles and marine mammals will grow to roughly three times the size of California under a memorandum that President Barack Obama signed Thursday. The expanded Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument will cover 490,000 square miles, making it the largest marine preserve in the world, the White House said.
The move puts the remote waters surrounding a collection of islands off-limits to drilling and most fishing in a bid to protect fragile underwater life. Millions of marine animals live in the bio-rich expanse included in the new monument, which will also add new protections for more than 130 "seamounts" — underwater mountains where rare or undiscovered species are frequently found. Commercial fishing, deep-sea mining and other extraction of underwater resources will be banned, but recreational fishing will still be allowed. The monument was created in 2009 as an 86,000-square-mile preserve — and includes Howland Island, the destination that aviator Amelia Earhart was looking for when she disappeared in 1937.
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