On Thursday, September 1, 2016, President Obama visited Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which the President expanded just a week before, making it the largest conservation area in the world. His visit to Midway Atoll within the Monument coincided with the start of the IUCN World Conservation Congress, held in the United States for the first time ever, where nearly ten thousand delegates from 192 countries gathered to discuss the world’s conservation concerns. According to a White House press briefing, the President traveled to Papahānaumokuākea “to mark the significance of this monument designation and highlight firsthand how the threat of climate change makes protecting our public lands and waters more important than ever.”
The evening before he left for Midway Atoll, President Obama addressed leaders from the Pacific Island Conference of Leaders at the East-West Center at the University of Hawaiʻi in Honolulu to talk about the impacts of climate change and the importance of conservation. He made several poignant remarks, including: “No nation, not even one as powerful as the United States, is immune from a changing climate” and “There’s no conflict between a healthy economy and a healthy planet.”
Touring by golf cart, the President was shown habitat restoration sites and important wildlife management projects taking place on Midway Atoll. Continuing his tour in the water, the President got to view various marine life while snorkeling.
In his remarks from Turtle Beach, President Obama said that it is “critically important for us to examine the effects that climate change are taking here in the Pacific Ocean, the world's largest body of water…There are enormous effects on the human presence in the ocean that creatures are having to adapt to and, in some cases, cannot adapt to.” Indeed, there are many small sandy islets within the Monument that provide haul out areas for turtles and monk seals; these islets are at risk from disappearing under rising sea levels.
The President also visited the memorials on Midway Atoll to honor the courage and sacrifice of those who fought in the Battle of Midway, one of the most decisive battles in World War II.
President Obama is the second U.S. president to visit Midway Atoll; President Nixon was there in 1969.