Washington, D.C. – Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today expanded the National Wildlife Refuge System by 54 million acres, or 58 percent, by assigning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the responsibility for overall management of the three new marine national monuments in the Pacific Ocean designated by President Bush earlier this month.
“The National Wildlife Refuge System is the world's largest and most professionally managed system of lands dedicated to wildlife conservation,” Kempthorne said. “I can think of no organization more qualified to oversee these pristine areas and their diverse wildlife than the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”
When President Bush designated the new monuments – the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, and Marianas Trench National Monument – he delegated the decision on how the areas would be managed to the Secretary of the Interior.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has extensive experience in the Pacific Ocean. The refuge system already includes a number of refuges in the ocean, including Howland Island, Baker Island, Jarvis Island, Palmyra Atoll, and Kingman Reef National Wildlife Refuges. These refuges are included in the area designated by the president.
"We welcome these new lands and waters into the National Wildlife Refuge System," said Rowan Gould, Fish and Wildlife Service Acting Director. "These unique coral reef ecosystems and active undersea volcanoes, along with the deepest area on Earth -- the Mariana Trench -- well deserve the protections the refuge system will provide."
Some portions of the new monuments will be managed in part by the Commerce Department's National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and in part by Fish and Wildlife Service. These areas will not be part of the Refuge System.
The president's designation of the three monuments prohibits destruction or extraction of protected resources within their boundaries as well as commercial fishing in the coral reef ecosystem areas of the monuments. Scientific and recreational activities, including recreational fishing, may be permitted consistent with the care and management of the protected resources of these monuments.
In 2007, President Bush designated the Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument, encompassing 140,000 square miles, the largest single protected marine area in the world, eclipsing Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The four monuments combined are larger than the combined size of the National Park System and the National Wildlife Refuge System as it was prior to the Secretary's decision today.
The three monuments designated by the president earlier this month include many rare or unique features. For example, the Mariana Trench includes many unique features, including the only place on Earth with huge active mud volcanoes that release hydrogen. The Champagne vent, located at the Eifuku submarine volcano, produces almost pure liquid carbon dioxide, a phenomenon observed only at one other site in the world.
The molten Sulfur Cauldron found at the Daikoku submarine volcano is unique on Earth; the only other known location of molten sulfur is on Io, a moon of Jupiter. And Maug Crater represents one of only a handful of places on Earth where photosynthesis and chemosynthetic communities of life are known to come together in the same place.
Howland, Baker and Jarvis Islands are unique places for climate change and other research at the Equator. They have deep corals, coral reefs and precious corals in near-pristine condition, with predator dominated marine ecosystems where the biomass of top predators exceeds that of the Great Barrier Reef.
Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll have undisturbed coral reefs, with the highest levels of coral diversity in the central Pacific. Kingman Reef has the greatest known fish biomass and proportion of apex predators of any coral reef ecosystem that has been scientifically studied in the world.
Johnston Atoll's coral reefs are the origin source for much of the larvae for the Hawaiian Islands for corals, invertebrates and other reef fauna. They have the deepest reef building corals on record. Meanwhile, Wake Island is perhaps the oldest living coral atoll in the world, and has healthy and abundant coral and fish populations.