Bush plan to protect Pacific regions is welcome move
President Bush has proposed a marine conservation effort in various areas of the Pacific.
Two years after pleasantly startling environmentalists by providing protection to the waters of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, President Bush is proposing to extend the protection to other areas of the Pacific. While protection of coral reefs and marine wildlife and birds could vary, Bush deserves praise for seeking the needed safeguards.
In June 2005, Bush declared the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands at a national monument to protect more than 7,000 marine species and 14 million seabirds. The 140,000-square-mile monument is the largest in the world.
Parts of the waters off the Northern Mariana Islands, including the 36,000-feet-deep Mariana Trench ocean canyon, total 115,000 square miles. Other waters targeted for protection are those surrounding Johnston Atoll; Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef; Rose Atoll; Howland and Baker islands; Jarvis Island and Wake Island.
In a memo distributed to his defense, interior and commerce secretaries and the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Bush wrote that the isolated areas support "endemic, depleted, migratory, endangered and threatened species of fish, giant clams, crabs, marine mammals, sea turtles, seabirds, migratory shorebirds and corals that are rapidly vanishing elsewhere in the world."
The president is considering using various tools - including the Antiquities Act, which he used to protect the Northwestern Hawaiian island waters - to provide "additional recognition, protection or improved conservation and management for objects of historic or scientific interest at these islands, coral reefs, geologic features and surrounding marine waters."
The cabinet secretaries and James Connaughton, the council secretary, are to assess the plan with the idea of implementing it by the end of Bush's term. Although details are yet to be decided, environmentalists who have been critical of the Bush administration on most issues were pleased about his declaration of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument at the western part of the Hawaiian Island chain and are celebrating what they foresee.
Various activities including commercial fishing, oil and gas exploration and deep sea mining could be allowed in some areas. The final declaration could be a high point for the Bush presidency, "if he does it right," Elliott Norse, president of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, told the Los Angeles Times. "By 'right,' I mean he gives big, broad protections and full protections around these islands and atolls, not postage-stamp protection."
Joshua S. Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environmental Group, said barring extractive activities "would be one of the most significant environmental achievements" of any president.