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Vast Tracts of the Pacific Saved for Conservation

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Photo courtesy Enric Sala

Three new marine national monuments proclaimed by President Bush today won him a standing ovation in the final weeks of his Presidency.

“These locations are truly among the last pristine areas in the marine environment on earth,” Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality James Connaughton said in a media call yesterday.

“We should be very happy because it’s the largest marine area ever protected,” said Enric Sala, a marine ecologist and National Geographic fellow and emerging explorer. “We don’t need more research to know that more of these remote intact places need to be protected,” he told National Geographic News.

Sala helped conduct the only scientific surveys of the Pacific region, particularly in the pristine Kingman Reef., one of the areas protected in today’s proclamation. Some of the pictures he made at Kingman are featured in this blog post.

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Photo courtesy Enric Sala

The first of the new protected areas is the Marianas Marine National Monument, which includes the Marianas Trench and a long lineof 21 submerged active volcanoes and hydrothermal vents that runs along the entire Marianas Island chain.

The Mariana Trench contains the deepest places on earth. The trench in its deepest point is deeper than Mount Everest is high, and it’s more than 1,500 miles long and 44 miles wide. So to compare that, it’s about five times longer than the Grand Canyon and several times wider, according to Connaughton.

Also protected within this marine monument are pristine coral reef ecosystems that surround the three northernmost islands of the Marianas.

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Photo courtesy Enric Sala

The second new protected area is the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument. This includes the pristine coral reef ecosystems that surrounds Kingman Reef; Palmyra Atoll; Howland, Baker, and Jarvis Islands; Johnston Atoll; and Wake Island — seven areas in all.

This monument is home to millions of nesting seabirds and migratory shorebirds. The reefs contain endangered turtles, hundreds of different fish species, and an unusually large abundance of apex predators like sharks.

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The third new protected area is Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, a remote area within the territorial waters of American Samoa. It is a tiny but spectacular coral reef area that’s renowned for the pink hue of its fringing reef that’s caused by coralline algae, Connaughton said in his briefing. “And it’s also off the charts when it comes to the extent of coral cover. It has some of the marine-b.jpgbroadest extent of live coral cover of any place on earth,” he said.

The waters around Rose Atoll are home to giant clams, reef sharks, and very large parrot fish, and are a frequent location where you can find humpback and pilot whales and porpoises, Connaughton said.

News of Bush’s latest move to protect the oceans was warmly received, perhaps nowhere more so than bymarine-c.jpg Greenpeace International, which ran a lead story on its Web site under the headline, “Ocean monuments? Thank you, George Bush — No, really: THANK YOU, George Bush.”

“This is a truly rare opportunity for us to applaud the Bush administration!” Greenpeace continued. “This outstanding decision, together with his protection of a large area of the Hawaiian islands in 2006, means Bush will have protected more ocean than any person in history,” the environmental activist group noted.

“In the game of environmental sin and sainthood,” Greenpeace continued, “nobody is beyond redemption. Other world leaders who might be feeling guilty for not doing enough environmentally may also be looking for marine-d.jpgways to atone for their sins. Perhaps if they all took this one leaf out Bush’s book, we’d be a lot further along in reaching our goal — to save our seas — before it’s too late.”

On its Web site the Pew Charitable Trusts posted “New Ocean Monuments Give President Bush a Blue Legacy; Pew Applauds Historic Action.”

All photos by Jean Kenyon, Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, NOAA

“Together with the Hawaii marine monument established two years ago, this marks the end of an era in which humans have increasingly understood the need to conserve vanishing wild places on land but failed to comprehend the similar plight of our oceans. It comes none too soon,” said Joshua S. Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group.

“The Mariana Islands monument … by itself … is the third largest marine reserve in the world. Among its diverse and remarkable underwater features are the second known boiling pool of liquid sulfur (the first pool was discovered on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons); huge, active mud volcanoes — one more than 31 miles across; and highly acidic hydrothermal vents that provide a unique natural laboratory for the study of ocean acidification and its effects on coral reefs and shallow-water sea life,” Reichert said.

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Photo courtesy Enric Sala

A marine mammal survey in the area found 19 species, including several rare species of beaked whales, Pew noted in its statement. “The land areas shelter the endangered Micronesian megapode, which is the only bird known to use volcanic heat to incubate its eggs, threatened fruit bats, more than a dozen species of migratory seabirds with breeding populations numbering over 200,000 and giant coconut crabs — the largest land-living arthropod in the world.”

For the past two years, the Pew Environment Group’s Global Ocean Legacy Program has worked with the Bush Administration as well as citizens and elected officials in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas to promote the concept of a large-scale marine reserve in the waters surrounding the Mariana Islands. More than 200 local businesses and 6,000 citizens signed petitions supporting marine monument designation.

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“A Monumental Decision: George W. Bush becomes the conservation president, at least at sea,” reads the headline over the top leader in today’s Washington Post.

“Yes, you read that right. A man whose administration doesn’t exactly have a green seal of approval from environmentalists will grant monument status today to three vast and

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breathtaking areas teeming with marine life in the South Pacific,” the leader says.

 

“Combined with other designations over the past eight years, including the creation of a 138,000-square-mile marine national monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands two years ago, Mr. Bush has now protected marine-g.jpgmore ocean habitat (333,000 square miles) than any of his predecessors. 

 

“The ecosystems and geological formations that will now be protected from exploitation or disturbance will preserve the environment and some species that are disappearing in other parts of the world,” the Post continued..

All photos by Jean Kenyon, Coral Reef Ecosystem Division, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, NOAA

“Equally important, the national monuments will provide a platform for scientific discovery, particularly as the impact of climate change on the oceans becomes more apparent.”

Noting that Connaughton had described the locations as truly among the last pristine environments on Earth, the Post said, “Thanks to Mr. Bush’s action today, they will remain that way.”

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Photo courtesy Enric Sala