President Bush to Consider New Ocean National Monuments, Could Create World's Largest Protected Area

August 25, 2008
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Katharine Burnham, 202/572-3335, kburnham@edf.org
 
(Washington D.C. – August 25, 2008) President Bush today took a critical step towards establishing an unprecedented ocean conservation legacy.  In a memo sent to cabinet secretaries, the president proposed designating two new marine national monuments in U.S. waters.  One of the proposed monuments, the Central Pacific Islands, could be the world’s largest protected area covering an area more than four-and-a-half times all the National Parks and nearly the size of Alaska. The other proposed monument covers areas around the Northern Mariana Islands, including the deepest part of the ocean.
 
The White House memo issued today includes consideration of energy development, mining, and fishing that, if allowed, could harm the seabirds, turtles, and other wildlife that lives in these areas. EDF nonetheless hopes and expects that this process will result in full protection for these vulnerable and unique places, excluding the harmful activities.  
 
“The president is on the cusp of conserving more ocean territory than any leader has ever done. That’s an amazing legacy to leave the nation,” said Fred Krupp president of Environmental Defense Fund. “The President’s focus on ocean protection, first with Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii and now with these proposed monuments, is the kind of leadership we need now and from future presidents to ensure our world beneath the waves is protected, explored, studied and cherished.”  
 
Environmental Defense Fund in partnership with Marine Conservation Biology Institute has been actively engaged with the proposed monuments. The Central Pacific Islands has substantial scientific and political support. Governor TogiolaTulafono (D-AS) of American Samoa has written the president in support of a monument.  Hundreds of prominent scientists have also written the president calling for protection of these fragile places.
 
A monument in the Central Pacific Islands and their surrounding waters could be the largest protected area on Earth and cover the most pristine shallow-water coral reef ecosystems in the world, as well as habitat for millions of seabirds. The area contains eight remote island possessions and territories – Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, and Palmyra, Baker, Wake, Jarvis and Howland Islands.
 
“I've been privileged to work in some of the most pristine and magnificent ocean areas in the world, and the Central Pacific Islands are unparalleled,” said Susan Middleton, award winning photojournalist who recently returned from an expedition to the Central Pacific Islands. “If there was a poster child for protection, this area is certainly it.”
 
Seventy-five percent of the world’s corals are found in the Indo-Pacific region and corals there are disappearing twice as fast as tropical rain forests. Many areas in the proposed Central Pacific Islands monument remain in a nearly pristine state. A recent study of Kingman Reef, part of the proposed monument, found a picture-perfect healthy coral ecosystem that contained more fish than any other coral reef ecosystem in the world. The study also found that the area contains the world’s greatest proportion of top predators (including sharks), a key indicator of ecosystem health. Healthy reefs like those of the Central Pacific are also more resilient to changing climate.
 
“There are very few places on earth like the Central Pacific Islands,” said David Festa, vice president, Oceans at EDF. “It is a place that time forgot: spectacular wildlife, stunning beauty and almost no people or even human activity. A monument designation will celebrate and protect this extraordinary place.”
 
The president’s proposal now enters a period of vetting, where officials at federal agencies and departments will provide comments though, by law, the president may declare the monuments at any time.
 
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