Obama proposes sanctuary expansion with eye on legacy

By Emily Yehle | 06/07/2016 12:49 PM EDT

A top administration official hinted today that President Obama would pursue ocean conservation in the coming months as part of his "legacy" to combat climate change.

Christy Goldfuss, the managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, spoke at Capitol Hill Ocean Week, an annual event held by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. During her keynote address, she announced the administration’s proposal to expand the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico.

But Goldfuss also told the crowd of ocean advocates that they "will have lots to celebrate" next year, if they helped the administration effectively communicate the threats facing oceans.


"We are motivated more than ever to continue to prioritize the protection of marine resources," she said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration originally proposed the expansion of Flower Garden Banks last year. Today, NOAA released its environmental review of various "expansion scenarios," with a preferred option of increasing the sanctuary almost sevenfold to 383 square miles.

NOAA has proposed several new sanctuaries and sanctuary expansions since the administration began its push to use executive power to address ocean conservation. Obama has also used the Antiquities Act to expand a Pacific marine monument in one unilateral swoop — and many expect him to use the act again before he leaves office.

Goldfuss did not mention plans for any marine monuments. But she emphasized the need to set aside marine refuges "to help sustain biodiversity" as the ocean acidifies and warms.

She also encouraged the audience to focus on storytelling, to ensure the public is aware of how changing oceans are affecting people today. She pointed to disappearing commercial fisheries in the Northeast, the historic bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef and the plight of Alaska Native communities that hunt wildlife that relies on disappearing sea ice.

"We know that our actions are changing our ocean," Goldfuss said. "It is up to all of us — it is up to every single one of us in this room — to be the best darn storyteller."