Saturday, January 10, 2009

Even George Wants a Legacy

WASHINGTON, DC, January 6, 2009 (ENS) - Just two weeks before he leaves office, President George W. Bush today set aside three new marine national monuments in the Pacific Ocean. Taken together, the three monuments cover nearly 200,000 square miles, and they will now receive America's highest level of environmental recognition and conservation, the president said.

To create the new monuments, President Bush used the Antiquities Act signed in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt.

"The first is we will establish the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument," said President Bush. "At the heart of this protected area will be much of the Marianas Trench - the site of the deepest point on Earth - and the surrounding arc of undersea volcanoes and thermal vents."

This monument is located in the western North Pacific Ocean, to the east and south of the Mariana Islands, near Guam. It features coral reefs off the coast of the upper three islands in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

               
Marine life near a seamount on the Marianas Trench (Photo courtesy Oregon State University)

"These islands, some 5,600 miles from California, are home to a striking diversity of marine life - from large predators like sharks and rays, to more than 300 species of stony corals. By studying these pristine waters, scientists can advance our understanding of tropical marine ecosystems not only there, but around the world," Bush said during the signing ceremony this afternoon at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

"This unique geological region is more than five times longer than the Grand Canyon. It is deeper than Mount Everest is tall. It supports life in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. A fascinating array of species survive amid hydrogen-emitting volcanoes, hydrothermal vents that produce highly acidic and boiling water, and the only known location of liquid sulfur this side of Jupiter," the president said.

The second new monument is the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, spanning seven areas to the far south and west of Hawaii.

"One is Wake Island - the site of a pivotal battle in World War II, and a key habitat for nesting seabirds and migratory shorebirds," said President Bush.

"The monument will also include unique trees and grasses and birds adapted to life at the Equator; the rare sea turtles and whales and Hawaiian monk seals that visit Johnston Atoll; and some of the most pristine and spectacular coral reefs in the world," he said.

               
Coral formation at Rose Atoll, one of the new national marine monuments (Photo courtesy NOAA)

The third new monument is the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, a diamond-shaped island to the east of American Samoa - the southernmost territory of the United States.

This atoll is inhabited by rare species of nesting petrels, shearwaters, and terns.

"The waters surrounding the atoll are the home of many rare species, including giant clams and reef sharks - as well as an unusual abundance of rose-colored corals," said President Bush. "This area has long been renowned as a place of natural beauty. And now that it's protected by law, it will also be a place of learning for generations to come."

Resource destruction or extraction, waste dumping, and commercial fishing will be prohibited in the new monument areas. Research, free passage, and recreation will be allowed.

"For seabirds and marine life, they will be sanctuaries to grow and thrive," said the president. "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."

In 2006, President Bush created another marine national monument covering the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the largest protected marine area in the world and the largest single conservation area in American history.

Today the president announced that the United States will soon submit a request to the United Nations that this monument become a UNESCO World Heritage site - America's first such submission in 15 years.

The United States will also request World Heritage designation for Mount Vernon - the home of America's first President, George Washington.

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