President George W. Bush has designated three national monuments around 11 Pacific islands, White House officials said today. The marine preserves, which include the Mariana Trench, the Rose Atoll in American Samoa, and several islands in the central Pacific, spans 505,000 square kilometers--about the size of Spain--making it the largest area ever protected in one swoop.
The move, which has become known as Bush's Blue Legacy, tops his 2006 designation of 360,000 square kilometers of ocean off the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a national monument. It bans commercial fishing in waters 92 kilometers off these islands, which are already patrolled by the Coast Guard. But the monument falls far short of the 2.2 million square kilometers that many marine biologists had called for. That expanded area would have encompassed the islands' entire exclusive economic zones, which currently allow fishing by only U.S. vessels and reach out 370 kilometers offshore.
The Central Pacific monuments were proposed jointly by the Marine Conservation Biology Institute and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Marine biologist Jane Lubchenco of Oregon State University, Corvallis, a board member of EDF, has been nominated to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. If confirmed, she will oversee how these monuments are managed.
Several species will benefit from Bush's actions, says Jim Maragos, a marine scientist specializing in the pacific at the Fish and Wildlife Service. Blue-water fish such as yellowfin, bigeye tuna, and marlin--all in decline--will be big winners because they breed in these waters. So will sharks, birds, turtles, and dolphins accidentally caught by the tuna long-line fleets. And, notably in the Marianas, volcanic formations that mimic the effects of ocean acidification will be preserved for research. The islands themselves will get little added benefit from the preserves, as they are already protected.
Further details of the plan will be provided Tuesday afternoon when Bush formally announces the designations.
"This move, coupled with the strong team the Obama Administration is putting in place, gives the ocean a fighting chance," said Vikki Spruill, president of the Ocean Conservancy in Washington, D.C.