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Global Congress Tackles Wildlife Trafficking, Ocean Conservation


President Barack Obama and Marine National Monuments Superintendent Matt Brown visit Turtle Beach during a tour of Midway Atoll in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Sept. 1, 2016.

The World Conservation Congress opened up its 10-day conference Thursday on Honolulu's Waikiki Beach.

Thousands of world leaders, policymakers and environmentalists are attending the conference that is held every four years. This one held in Hawaii is the first time it is being held in the United States. Attendees are focusing on wildlife trafficking, ocean conservation and and private investment in conservation.

U.S. President Barack Obama is in his home state of Hawaii a week after he quadrupled the size of Papahnaumokukea Marine National monument, creating the world's largest marine monument. The White House says the protected area encompasses 362,000 square kilometers.

Midway Atoll

Obama also visited Midway Atoll Thursday, one of the most remote sections of the Pacific Ocean and part of the newly created marine monument. The atoll was also the location of the World War II Battle of Midway where American servicemen battled the Japanese force.

The president described Midway's ecosystem as "spectacular." He said the atoll is "home to 7,000 marine species, that sees millions of birds, many of them endangered, sea turtles, Hawaiian monk seals, black coral, all sorts of species that in many other places we no longer see."

A few dozen people reside on Midway Atoll, but the population grew by a few dozen Thursday with the president's convoy of 18 golf carts.

Obama, who grew up in Honolulu, stopped to look at a cluster of threatened green sea turtles on Midway's beach. "When I grew up, you'd see these turtles all the time," the president said. "But you'd never see them beaching like this, basking in the sun."

Climate change

Obama also spoke Wednesday night about the importance of addressing climate change, saying no nation is immune from the threat and that the world will have to tackle it together.

"Few people understand I think the stakes better than our Pacific island leaders because they're seeing already the impact. Rising temperatures and sea levels pose an existential threat to your countries."

The president will travel next to China for a G-20 summit where he said climate change will be a centerpiece of the agenda.