Thursday, June 15, 2006

Bush Creates Largest Protected Marine Area

Now there's a title I never thought I'd get to use.

But it's true ... the president today will announce the designation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a national monument, making the 140,000-square mile area the largest protected marine area in the world (surpassing even the Great Barrier Reef). According to reports in the NYTimes and WaPo today, the region of uninhabited islands and atolls is home to more than 7,000 marine species, including several that are listed as endangered (and nearly 25% of which are found nowhere else on earth).

The president had planned to designate the area as a marine sanctuary, which would have required a year-long approval process (with the potential for many years of lawsuits) to construct rules for the use of the area. By using the National Antiquities Act (for only the second time), the area is protected immediately, and the papers report that Bush will announced a "suite of strict rules for the area, including a five-year phasing out of commercial and sport fishing." The rules "will allow Hawaiians to have access to the area for other traditional activities and will include the Midway World War II memorial, a facility that is open for research, education and ecotourism. Visitors wishing to snorkel, dive or take photographs in the area will have to obtain a permit, and no one may take fish, wildlife, corals or minerals from the region," according to White House sources.

I'm stunned, to say the least. I never in a million years expected this president to take such a protective action. Does this make up for all the nasty things he and his Administration have done to the environment in the last six years? Not a bit. But it's still a good step, and one I will applaud even as I continue to urge him to do more.

Jean-Michel Costeau recently showed a documentary about the area at a White House screening, which apparently had a "powerful effect" on George and Laura Bush and helped prompt his decision to name the area a national monument. Perhaps a screening of "An Inconvenient Truth" should be arranged.


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