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Bush creates world's largest marine park

Conservation

Kingman Reef

Kingman Reef, one of the Pacific Island marine areas that will receive new protection with the announcement of the world's largest marine park, by US President George Bush.

Credit: US National Parks and Wildlife Service

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WASHINGTON: Seeking to add an environmental boost to his legacy, President George W. Bush has announced the creation of the world's largest oceanic protected area in three parts of the Pacific.

In a bid to protect pristine coral reefs, rare fish and underwater volcanoes, Bush on Tuesday will mark out an area spanning some 195,000 square miles (505,000 sq km) in the Pacific Ocean as a trio of "marine national monuments," a spokesman said.

The areas include the Mariana Trench and northern Mariana Islands, the Rose Atoll in American Samoa and a chain of remote islands in the Central Pacific.

"The monuments will prohibit resource destruction or extraction, waste dumping, and commercial fishing," Bush said.

"For seabirds and marine life, they will be sanctuaries to grow and thrive. For scientists, they will be places to extend the frontiers of discovery," he said.

Fishing will be barred or limited in many island areas while the 21 volcanoes and hydrothermal vents along the ocean floor beneath the Mariana Islands will also be protected.

"This is very, very big," James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality Issues, told reporters on Monday ahead of Bush's announcement.

"In the last several years, it's on par with what we've been able to accomplish on land over the course of the last 100 years," he said, noting that the total area would "comprise the largest areas of ocean or ocean seabed set aside as marine protected areas in the world."

Collectively, the three areas will nudge out the Phoenix Island Protected Area, established in 2008 by the South Pacific nation of Kiribati as the world's largest protected area.

They also top Bush's last such announcement of a marine protection area in 2006 - 363,000 square kilometers of Pacific Ocean near the northwestern Hawaiian islands.

"Because these areas are pristine it gives us the best opportunity to understand effects in the ocean system," said Connaughton.

In some island areas, commercial fishing will be prohibited within 50 nautical miles while indigenous, recreational or research fishing will be permitted on a case-by-case basis, Connaughton said.

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