Issue Date: January 12, 2009
Bush Designates Marine Refuges
MORE THAN 195,000 sq miles in the Pacific Ocean will now be protected as marine national monuments thanks to action by President George W. Bush. The Jan. 6 announcement largely prohibits commercial fishing, waste dumping, and extraction activities in most of the areas, but allows research and recreation, and it leaves open the possibility of fishing.
"For seabirds and marine life, these places will be sanctuaries to grow and thrive," Bush said when he made the designations. Conservation groups hailed the move, noting that Bush has safeguarded more marine areas than any other president.
The protected areas will allow scientists to study a perfectly healthy ocean ecosystem that can act as a baseline when they examine less protected ocean areas, says Jay Nelson, a zoologist with the Pew Charitable Trusts, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. In fact, only 0.1% of the world's oceans are protected, far less than the 10 to 13% of terrestrial land currently preserved, he says.
The designation of the new areas culminates two years of collaboration among conservationists, local business groups, and White House officials to expand the protections Bush granted in 2006 to the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Altogether, the monuments comprise 335,561 sq miles of ocean.
The newly designated areas include a region located off the Northern Mariana Islands, which contains some of "the oldest known life on the DNA tree," according to a Pew statement. The trench houses 21 active hydrothermal submarine volcanoes and vents. The other two new designations, several ecosystems located mostly in the southeastern Pacific and a region near Rose Atoll in the southern Pacific, support migratory birds and a pink-hued coral.
Although they view Bush's move as good, several conservation groups say they are concerned that loopholes in the marine monument designations might allow commercial exploitation. Nelson notes that the management of these regions appears to be split among several agencies, making monitoring and enforcement difficult.
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