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Jan 122009

So ironically, Heinemann says, Bush’s actions could make him the founder of one of the largest conservation movements ever to take place anywhere, anytime. Which makes him a strange bedfellow to the environmental movement to which he has usually been a foil.

And in one genius (and many say, genuine) stroke, the president did something extraordinary to help the broader environmental movement and its overarching goal of halting global warming.  Think of the oceans as a cavalry in that battle. They absorb more than 50 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, and therefore protect humans and other on-land species. So only by preserving our oceans can people stem the tide of climate change.

By declaring the Marianas Islands monument (the chain includes 14 islands, as well as the famed Marianas Trench), the Remote Pacific Islands monument and the Rose Atoll monument, the United States accomplishes several major goals, not just nationally but globally:

  • Bush sets an example for other world leaders to follow suit, potentially starting a global movement.
  • The move preserves coral reefs, which are critical to preserving and growing the ocean’s diverse populations (from algae to corals to fish species and endangered marine life like the hawksbill turtle, pictured below).
  • The monuments encompass relatively pristine areas, as opposed to already severely compromised areas. By preserving habitats before they’ve been degraded (by overfishing or pollution), it may boost the ocean’s resiliency.

As important as anything, Heinemann says, the monuments will create preserves for research that has never before been conducted – particularly in the region of the Marianas Trench, which has only been explored in depth once before. Also, they will protect critical coral reef systems from overfishing and other human activities that damage or weaken reefs.

These areas encompass largely unspoiled segments of the central Pacific under the U.S. flag, and will protect the waters up to 50 nautical miles off shore.

As a result, since his announcement earlier this week of new Marine Monuments, several editorials and activists have hailed him, saying that with the latest action, he has launched a movement comparable to that of the National Parks system that designated the Grand Canyon in 1908.

According to the Administration’s Jim Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the first monument to be investigated is the Marianas Marine National Monument, which includes the famous Marianas Trench (more than 36,200 deep) and the associated underwater volcanoes and hydrothermal vents bordering the Marianas Island chain.

“The…Trench contains the deepest places on earth,” said Connaughton in a press conference. “The trench in its deepest point is deeper than Mount Everest is high, and it’s more than 1500 miles long and 44 miles wide. So to compare that, it’s about five times longer than the Grand Canyon and several times wider.”