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President Obama designates new marine sanctuaries

President Barack Obama announced plans for two new marine sanctuaries — one off the coast of Maryland and the other in Lake Michigan.

At the second annual Our Ocean conference, which opened Monday in Chile, world leaders are addressing challenges to marine ecosystems around the globe and announcing extra steps they are taking to protect the world’s oceans.

In a video message to conferees, President Barack Obama announced plans for two new marine sanctuaries — one off the coast of Maryland and the other in Lake Michigan, according to the Washington Post.

They will be the first new national marine sanctuaries the federal government has designated in 15 years.

One of them is an 875-square-mile section of Lake Michigan off the shore of Wisconsin, an area recognized for its collection of nearly 40 known shipwrecks, some of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The other sanctuary is a 14-square-mile area of the Potomac River, which includes Maryland’s Mallows Bay — an area known for its ecological significance, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, and home to bald eagles, herons, beavers, river otters and numerous species of fish.

The bay also features the famed “ghost fleet,” ship remnants from World War I.

“The United States is committed to working with our international partners to protect our oceans and protect our planet,” Obama says in the video, according to the Post. “Because I refuse to leave our children a planet that’s beyond their capacity to repair.”

The two areas were nominated for sanctuary status last year after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reopened the public nomination process for the first time in 20 years.

Since the process was opened, seven nominations were submitted from around the country, and the two that were announced Monday were the ones approved so far by NOAA for consideration as national marine sanctuaries. At least one other nomination is under NOAA review.

Several advocacy groups have been pressing the Obama administration to declare two new national marine monuments off New England’s coast: Cashes Ledge and the New England Canyons and Seamounts, which are home to a major kelp forest and a network of deepwater corals, respectively.

Some local fishing operators raised objections to the designations of the two areas in the run-up to the global conference and the president did not use his executive authority to put them off-limits.

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