President Barack Obama traveled to Midway Atoll, a remote spit of sand and coral in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, in September to see the monument he had recently turned into the largest protected marine area on the planet.
What they didn’t show, however, was that Obama also took time go below the water’s surface and glimpse some of the ocean species that make the area so spectacular and worthy of protection.
A photo published this week by National Geographic magazine shows the president snorkeling off Midway, gliding above a seemingly endless blanket of purple corals.
Photographer Brian Skerry described his experience with the president during an interview with NatGeo.
“You can never know what’s in someone’s mind, but for me, it sort of struck me that he was enjoying the freedom of getting a good workout,” Skerry said of Obama. “He seems to be an athletic guy, very fit, a great swimmer. He was hard to keep up with.”
And in a Facebook post about the underwater shoot, Skerry noted there’s a lot of work to be done when it comes to protecting the ocean. He called Obama’s actions, however, “a great step in the right direction.”
Papahānaumokuākea, which former President George W. Bush established in 2006, was already larger than all of the country’s national parks combined. Obama’s designation expanded the monument from 139,797 square miles to 582,578 square miles.
“I look forward to knowing that 20 years from now, 40 years from now, 100 years from now this is a place where people can still come to and see what a place like this looks like when it’s not overcrowded or destroyed by human populations,” Obama said during his September visit.
The above photo is from the February issue of National Geographic magazine and appears in “Sea of Hope: America’s Underwater Treasures,” premiering Sunday at 7 p.m. Eastern Time on National Geographic.