Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Bush to Protect Vast New Pacific Tracts

President Bush will designate vast tracts of American-controlled Pacific Ocean islands, reefs, surface waters and sea floor as marine national monuments on Tuesday, limiting fishing, mining, oil exploration or other commercial activity, White House officials said Monday.

The protected zones, including parts of the deep Mariana Trench and a string of largely uninhabited reefs and atolls near the Equator and American Samoa, include a total of 195,280 square miles, an area larger than the states of Washington and Oregon combined.

The islands, atolls, reefs and underwater mountain ranges offer unique habitat to hundreds of rare species of birds and fish. Among them are tropicbirds, boobies, frigate birds, terns, noddies, petrels, shearwaters and albatrosses, according to environmental groups who pushed for the protection. It is also the habitat of the rare Micronesian megapode, a bird that incubates its eggs using subterranean volcanic heat.

The president’s action, which requires no Congressional or other approval, builds on the designation two years ago of the 139,000-square-mile Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the northwest Hawaiian Islands under the federal Antiquities Act.