US Designates 200,000 Square Miles of Conservation Zones in the Pacific Ocean

George Bush was expected to announce yesterday that he will designate nearly 200,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean as conservation areas. This announcement will make the US President the leader who has protected a greater area of the oceans than anyone else in the world.

Areas to be designated as marine reserves are the Mariana islands in the Western Pacific, a chain of remote islands in the central Pacific and the Rose Atoll off American Samoa. The Marianas Marine National Monument will protect the Mariana Trench: as deep as Everest is tall. The area is home to a wide variety of species, including many species of corals and some of the most diverse fish populations to be found in the Mariana islands. Other species to be protected by the three conservation areas include sharks, turtles, petrels and the Micronesian megapode; a bird which uses heat from volcanic vents to incubate its eggs.

Commercial fishing, mining and energy exploration will be banned within the protected areas. Recreational fishing will be allowed, but only by permit, with the number of permits to be limited.

Although excited by the proposals, conservationists are disappointed that protection will only extend to a distance of 50 miles from the islands: scientists had recommended a protection zone extending up to 200 nautical miles.

Guardian, 6 January 2009: Bush designates ocean conservation areas in final weeks as President.