A vast swathe of the Pacific, including an area near New Zealand territory, has been declared part of a United States national maritime monument. President George Bush, in the dying days of his administration, made the startling declaration by saying in the White House we're fixing to do some fabulous policy.
Seeking to protect pristine coral reefs, rare fish and underwater volcanoes, Bush declared 505,000 square kilometres of Pacific to be monuments and off-limits to exploration. The areas include the Mariana Trench and Northern Mariana Islands, a chain of remote islands in the Central Pacific and American Samoa's Rose Atoll. The latter is near New Zealand's Tokelau Islands and shares a maritime boundary with the Cook Islands. In area the new declaration exceeds the current largest conservation area, the 410,500 square kilometres Phoenix Island Protected Area in Kiribati which also borders Tokelau. The new reserves are the size of Spain and easily exceed New Zealand's land area of 270,000 square kilometres. Bush said his proclamations would "designate three beautiful and biologically diverse areas of the Pacific Ocean as new marine national monuments". The Rose Atoll Marine National Monument includes rare species of nesting petrels, shearwaters, and terns. Its waters hold many rare species, including giant clams and reef sharks -- as well as an unusual abundance of rose-colored corals. The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument is over the deepest point on Earth. "It is deeper than Mount Everest is tall," Bush said. "It supports life in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. "A fascinating array of species survives amid hydrogen-emitting volcanoes, hydrothermal vents that produce highly acidic and boiling water and the only known location of liquid sulphur this side of Jupiter". The new area also includes coral reefs off the coast of the upper three islands in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument spans seven areas, including Wake Island, a key habitat for nesting seabirds and migratory shorebirds. "The monument will also include unique trees and grasses and birds adapted to life at the Equator; the rare sea turtles and whales and Hawaiian monk seals that visit Johnston Atoll; and some of the most pristine and spectacular coral reefs in the world. "These isolated specks of land and abundant marine ecosystems are almost completely undisturbed by mankind". Bush said the benefits of the monuments reached beyond nature. "The monuments will preserve sites of cultural and spiritual significance to native peoples" and "they will ensure full freedom of navigation, and include measures to uphold training missions and other military operations". Bush said his announcement was the capstone of an eight -year commitment to strong environmental protection and conservation. He said he knew this claim sounded "contrary to the conventional wisdom of many in the news media". The areas will be designated as marine national monuments under provisions of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which is used to protect scientific and historical sites. "The monuments will prohibit resource destruction or extraction, waste dumping and commercial fishing" Bush said. The White House claims the places are among the last pristine marine areas left on Earth.