Tuesday, January 06, 2009 – Joined by Governor Benigno Fitial of the Northern Mariana Islands, President George W. Bush, under the 1906 U.S. Antiquities Act, has established the largest marine reserve ever by designating three Pacific Ocean areas as national monuments and preserving over 195,000 square miles of high seas to be barred from commercial fishing, mining and other uses.
The first and largest of the three, the Marianas Marine National Monument in the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), encompasses 95,222 square miles and includes the Marianas Trench and the long arch of submerged volcanoes and hydrothermal vents that run along the entire Marianas Island chain.
The second monument is the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument, encompassing 86,607 square miles and which includes the pristine coral reef ecosystems that surround the following seven U.S. remote insular areas: Kingman Reef; Palmyra Atoll; Howland, Baker and Jarvis Islands; Johnston Atoll; and Wake Island. These areas are home to millions of nesting seabirds and Johnston Atoll, in particular, intersects with the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument designated in the northwest Hawaiian Islands by President Bush in 2006.
The third marine national monument is the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument in American Samoa and encompasses 13,451 square miles. Rose Atoll is reknowned for the pink hue of its fringing reef caused by coralline algae and has some of the most spectacular coral cover on the planet.
Over the course of the next two years, the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior will be asked to work in conjunction with the governments of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and American Samoa to integrate and develop management plans and shared strategies for ensuring national security and protection of these identified ocean environment areas.
These three monuments combined eclipse the Papahanaumokuakea Monument in the Northern Hawaiian Islands established in 2006, which is only 139,797 square miles. "Taken together, this president has protected far more of the threatened and vital places in the sea than any other," said Joshua Reichert of the Pew Environmental Group for ocean conservation.
"These locations are truly among the last pristine areas in the marine environment on Earth," says James Connaughton, head of the administration's Council on Environmental Quality.
Extremely rich in biodiversity, these areas are home to endangered birds, giant clams, deep sea phenomenon, sharks, turtles, hundreds of species of corals and other fish and sea-life species. The Marianas region contains active volcanoes and hot thermal emissions from the floor's surface. One unique example to be found in the Marianas is a sulfur pool which is a phenomenon known only to occur on the moon of Io off Jupiter.
The Marianas Trench is the world's deepest known point on earth at depths over 36,000 feet and estimated to be more than five times the size of the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon, in fact, was first protected just a century ago in 1908 when President Theodore Roosevelt also used the Antiquities Act then to protect 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon.
Also present at the signing ceremony today with President Bush and CNMI Governor Benigno Fitial were Ray Tulafono, Director of Marine and Wildlife Resources of American Samoa and Mrs. Josie Fitial.