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Bush seeks to protect three Pacific island chains

Bush seeks to protect three Pacific island chains

President George W. Bush will seek formal comment from his Cabinet agencies next week on a plan that could make three of the most remote and pristine island chains in the world off-limits to commercial fishing and minerals exploration.
The action, which could be completed before Bush leaves office, would rank as one of the largest marine conservation efforts in history.
Bush's proposal would conserve parts of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Line Islands in the central Pacific Ocean and American Samoa, environmentalists who participated in a 40-minute conference call about the plan Friday told The Associated Press. Making them off limits to fishing and energy development is the most stringent of the possible measures outlined.
The proposal is expected to be made public as early as Monday, when the White House plans to send a memo to cabinet members, including the Defense, Interior and Commerce secretaries, and the Council on Environmental Quality. They will evaluate various levels of protection for the three areas and the impacts of establishing marine reserves. The review is expected to take one to two months, the participants said.
"We have every expectation that the president will move forward protecting these places sometime in the fall," said Diane Regas, the ocean program director at the Environmental Defense Fund, who was on the phone call Friday. "Today we put the champagne on ice, and we will pop it open."
Two years ago, the president made a huge swath of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a national monument, barring fishing, oil and gas extraction and tourism from its waters and coral reefs. The area is the single largest conservation area on the planet.
It is unclear whether Bush will designate these new areas as monuments, or use another executive mechanism that would allow limited fishing and other activities.
Conservation groups have been lobbying the White House to set aside 115,000 square miles (297,850 sq. kilometers) of the Northern Marianas as a marine monument. The Marianas, a U.S. commonwealth, which is 1,400 miles (2,250 kilometers) south of Japan in the Pacific, is known as the Grand Canyon of the ocean and includes 14 islands that are home to seabirds, endangered and threatened sea turtles and giant coconut crabs, the largest land-living crustacean.
The Environmental Defense Fund has advocated for the Line Islands in the central Pacific along the equator to be protected. It is home to five times as many coral species as the Florida Keys.
As for American Samoa, the governor of that U.S. territory, Togiola Tulafono, asked Bush in May to designate Rose Atoll as a national monument, citing its use as a nesting spot for endangered green sea turtles and a stopover for 12 species of migratory birds.
A spokeswoman for the Council on Environmental Quality would not confirm the phone call or the timing of the announcement.
"These vast Pacific areas are nearly three times the size of Texas," said Elliott Norse, founder and President of Marine Conservation Biology Institute, who participated in the conference call. "Countless seabirds, dolphins, fishes, corals and tiny things as yet undiscovered could survive as a result, free of the threats that are eliminating them elsewhere."


Updated : 2021-02-27 15:33 GMT+08:00