bush marine conservation, bush ocean conservation, bush marine preservation, bush ocean preservation
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
President George W. Bush is hugged by U.S. Commonwealth Northern Mariana Islands Gov.
Benigno R. Fitial after Bush used his executive authority to establish the
Mariana Trench
National Monument, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009. (AP)

Largest-Ever Marine Conservation Effort Boosts Bush’s Controversial Legacy

January 07, 2009 05:29 PM
by Denis Cummings
President Bush will leave office having protected more square mileage of ocean than any president in history, but critics still take issue with his environmental record.

Bush Creates Three Marine Monuments in Pacific

President George W. Bush announced Tuesday that three areas of the Pacific Ocean will be designated as national monuments, protecting them from energy exploration and commercial fishing. The monuments were created under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows the president to restrict use of public land without congressional approval.

The areas surround remote and mostly uninhabited islands, and include the Mariana Trench—the deepest point on Earth, at 36,000 feet below sea-level. The areas feature rare marine life and geological formations, including “the giant coconut crab, the largest land-living arthropod; an endangered bird that incubates its eggs with volcanic heat; a boiling pool of liquid sulfur; and a 31-mile-wide active mud volcano,” according to The Washington Post.

Discussing the areas Tuesday, President Bush declared: “For seabirds and marine life, they will be sanctuaries to grow and thrive. For scientists, they will be places to extend the frontiers of discovery. And for the American people, they will be places that honor our duty to be good stewards of the Almighty’s creation.”

Totaling 195,280 square miles of ocean, the establishment of the monuments is the largest-ever marine conservation effort. Bush, who in 2006 protected 135,000 square miles surrounding the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, has now designated more square mileage of ocean for protection than any other U.S. president.

Despite his ocean conservation efforts, Bush’s environmental record remains unpopular among environmentalists. “The Bush administration deserves our applause and praise for taking such bold action,” said Laura Capps, senior vice president for Ocean Conservancy, to Fox News. “But you have to look at the entire record. Looking at the last eight years, you really have to balance comparisons with little or no action on global warming and lifting a 27-year ban on new offshore drilling.”

Bush defended his environmental legacy Tuesday during the announcement of the new monuments. “Since 2001, we have put common-sense policies in place, and I can say upon departure, our air is cleaner, our water is purer, and our lands are better protected,” he said.

Opinion & Analysis: Ocean conservation

Bush has won praise for his commitment to ocean conservation, which is often an overlooked environmental cause. “For ocean lovers, Bush’s decision is a long overdue recognition that the seas are just as deserving of conservation as the land is,” writes Time. “But while the U.S. has been establishing national parks for more than 130 years … we’re only just now moving to protect the ocean and the multitude of life that depends on it.”

However, marine scientists argue that more must be done to protect the oceans. The Times of London writes, “Most marine scientists now agree that perhaps more than a third of the ocean must be set aside as no-take marine reserves.” However, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates that less than 0.1 percent of the world’s ocean is protected, according to Time.

There are some doubts that Bush’s decision goes far enough. Environmentalists advocated for the protection to extend 200 miles from land, but Bush chose to extend protection only 50 miles. Furthermore, there are questions whether there will be enough funding to police the restrictions put in place. However, environmentalists agree that Bush took a significant step in protecting the world’s oceans.

“In a more symbolic level, it sends a message that we have finally arrived at a point where we are beginning to think about the sea in the same way we have thought about the land—that there are special places under threat that need to be protected,” said Joshua Reichert of the Pew Environment Group.

Background: The protected areas

The three new national monuments are the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Located south of Japan, the Mariana Trench is the world’s deepest point, at 36,201 feet below sea level—deeper than Mt. Everest is high. The Northern Mariana Islands are part of the “Ring of Fire,” made up of a series of underwater volcanoes.

The Rose Atoll, located at the eastern end of the Samoan archipelago, is the smallest atoll in the world. Part of American Samoa, it was in 1973 designated as a National Wildlife Refuge; it was already off limits to the public to protect the rare species that live there.

The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument is an area in the central Pacific that includes Johnston Atoll, Howland, Baker and Jarvis Islands, Kingman Reef, Palmyra Atoll and Wake Island. They are, along with Midway Atoll, part of the Pacific Remote Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The islands “sustain many endemic species including corals, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, seabirds, water birds, land birds, insects, and vegetation not found elsewhere,” according to the CIA World Factbook.

Reference: Presidential proclamations and statement


Most Recent Beyond The Headlines