August 26, 2008

White House May Protect Larger Areas of Pacific Waters

The White House announced on Monday that certain areas of U.S. Pacific Ocean waters could be protected as marine sanctuaries or monuments.

President George W. Bush called for U.S. secretaries of the Interior, Defense and Commerce departments to assess whether certain locations in the Pacific should be designated as marine protected areas, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

A group of islands and atolls in the remote central Pacific, including the Rose Atoll near American Samoa, and some of the waters around the Northern Mariana Islands in the western Pacific are currently under consideration.

The announcement comes just one month after President Bush lifted a White House ban on offshore drilling as gas prices hit record highs.

If all the new places mentioned by Bush were protected, the territory would total more than 891,000 square miles, an area larger than Texas and Alaska combined.

"These areas are host to some of the world's most biodiverse coral reefs and habitat and some of the most interesting and compelling geological formations in all of our oceans," Fratto said, speaking from Crawford, Texas.

Bush advised his cabinet secretaries that their recommendations should not limit military activities and should be consistent with freedom of navigation and international law.

In 2006, Bush established a national monument in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands, creating the largest marine protected area in the world.
Joshua Reichert of the Pew Environment Group called the announcement "a hopeful sign for ocean conservation" but said designation as a marine sanctuary or monument could still permit commercial fishing and deep sea mining.

"However, if the president establishes these new sites as no-take reserves, where no extractive activity is allowed, it would be one of the most significant environmental achievements of any U.S. president," Reichert said in a statement.

"The president is on the cusp of conserving more territory than any leader has ever done. That's an amazing legacy to leave the nation," said Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund.


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