September 12, 2008

Bush’s Oceanic Legacy

President Bush has acquitted himself well in at least one major environmental matter. He has supported protecting some key oceanic regions that are still little touched by the depredations of commercial fishing and mineral extraction.

Most notably, two years ago he created the world's largest protected marine area, in the northwest Hawaiian Islands. There, commercial and recreational fishing and other extractive activities, such as seabed mining, are banned. (Let us hope that enough resources are being slated for enforcement.)

And his administration recently announced that other sites may also be protected, though at what level has not been determined. One is an Arizona-sized area near the Mariana Trench, in the Pacific. The trench is the deepest on Earth -- 36,000 feet! -- and hosts numerous strange and rare creatures. Then there's Rose Atoll, near American Samoa, with such rarities as a species of sea turtle whose survival is threatened and a rare giant clam. Finally there's an area in the central Pacific near Wake Island with a wide variety of coral species.

Let's hope that they receive the same protection as the Hawaiian preserve.

A very small fraction of 1 percent of the world's oceans is fully protected from fishing and other extraction, even as pollution, over- fishing and other human activities increasingly stress bio- diversity and other aspects of oceanic health, though the oceans cover about 80 percent of the Earth's surface.

Mariners are frequently shocked to see vast amounts of plastic junk floating in the middle of the ocean. And Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishermen are distressed that so much of that body of water has become a dead zone because of pollution from the Mississippi River - - much of it originating in the farms and cities of the Midwest.

The United Nations, as well as individual marine countries, should address this challenge far more forcefully. It's crucial that more areas of the ocean be set aside. Mr. Bush deserves credit for setting the pace on this. We hope that the three new sites above get full-protection status before he leaves office.

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