Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Bush to announce three new marine monuments; Papahānaumokuākea gets siblings

President Bush, in a widely anticipated event, today was scheduled to announce the establishment of three new Pacific marine national monuments, to join the two-year-old Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

(Image: Bluefin trevally cruises a reef in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. James Watt photo.)

Papahānaumokuākea has been a lonely creature within the federal bureaucracy—the only marine national monument in existence, and one that conducts a constant balancing act with the three major agencies that have interests in the area: the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They operate as co-trustees.

No regulatory framework has been set up yet for the three new monuments, and while the partnerships will certainly be different, there will also be similarities.

“We will be asking the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior over the course of the next two years, in conjunction and cooperation with the governments of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, the government of American Samoa, and the government of Guam to develop these management plans, and come up with shared strategies for implementing them,” said Jim Connaughton, Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

For Rose Atoll, Connaughton said the Administration proposes the monument management be folded into the existing American Samoa national marine sanctuary bureaucracy, “so they'll all be under the same management regime.”

But that is something the outgoing Bush Administration will have to leave to its successor, the Obama Administration. The shape of those regulations will be driven by a Hawai'i born president who is far more familiar with oceans than Texan Bush.

The three monuments are: the Marianas Marine National Monument, whose most impressive feature is the Marianas Trench; the tiny Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, which encompasses the waters around the 15-acre atoll that's already a wildlife refuge; and the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument, which will include the waters around seven specks of land or reef—Kingman Reef; Palmyra Atoll; Howland, Baker, and Jarvis Islands; Johnston Atoll; and Wake Island.

The President uses the authority of the Antiquities Act to establish the monuments, and while this act has previously been primarily used to protect historical sites, his application of the act to establish Papahānaumokuākea is his precedent.

As at Papahānaumokuākea, the waters covered extend 50 miles from land: “These areas are quite remote, so it's helpful to have a fairly large area delineated, but we didn't want to go larger than the current weight that the science supported in terms of finding conservation benefit. So as you began to go out to 100 miles or 150 miles, it just wasn't clear we would be accomplishing much more in the way of fully protecting these coral reef ecosystems and the birds that surround them that we were interested in. We may yet learn more, but there appeared to be pretty solid ground focusing on 50,” Connaughton said.

Combined, Papahānaumokuākea's 139,797 square miles, added to the 195,000 square miles of the new reserves, create by far the world's largest complex of marine protected areas.

The Rose Atoll and Pacific Remote Islands monuments are not expected to raise much of a fuss, but the Marianas designation already has—largely among those seeking to protect fishing interests in the region.

The Bush Administration's plan is indeed to control or prohibit fishing—at least on those areas that are designated as “coral reef ecosystem,” Connaughton said.

“So with respect to the various island units, so Rose, the central islands, and the three northern islands of the Marianas. We're establishing 15 nautical conservation management areas. Inside of that area we will be prohibiting commercial fishing,” Connaughton said.

Here's what Connaughton had to say specifically about the Marianas reserve at a teleconference Monday (Jan. 5, 2009):

“This will have two main components. One of the main components will be the Marianas Trench and the long arch of submerged active volcanoes and hydrothermal vents that run along the entire Marianas Island chain. The Mariana Trench contains the deepest places on earth. The trench in its deepest point is deeper than Mount Everest is high, and it's more than 1,500 miles long and 44 miles wide. So to compare that, it's about five times longer than the Grand Canyon and several times wider.

“The active volcanoes and thermal vents, there are about 21 of them that run along the island chain, and we're talking about active volcanoes and these hot thermal emissions that come out of the surface of the -- the bottom of the sea, you know, anywhere from a thousand feet deep to 5,000 feet deep. Just to give you an example, one of the volcanoes is responsible for a sulfur pool, which is a phenomenon. The next place that occurs that we know of is on the moon of Io off of Jupiter. The thermal vents produce heat from the core of the earth, produce heat that boils the water to very, very high temperatures, and also makes the water highly acidic. In one place, the water is a pH of one. And yet in this very, very harsh environment, you have thriving, living resources -- something we want to learn a lot more about.

“The other major feature of the Marianas Marine National Monument will be the pristine coral reef ecosystems that surround the three northernmost islands of the chain. These ecosystems are home to more than 300 species of stony corals and they have some of the highest fish abundance and fish diversity in the entire Marianas Islands chain -- it's about 14 islands.

“In this setting, all of the resources that we're identifying will be fully protected. With respect to the coral reef ecosystem, this will include prohibitions on commercial fishing.”

International shipping will be permitted to travel through the monument waters largely as it does now.

Reporters asked Connaughton about the implications of the designations on military activities, and he said military use of the waters would be largely unhampered.

“In fact, I want to underline we actually welcome the presence of the military in and around the monument, because they will be some of our best eyes and ears as to what's going on with the resource. These are very, very remote places. And as we, for example, build up the military in Guam, there will be opportunities for military personnel to actually learn more about the resource and help understand global awareness of the resource. And as well, the military will be flying their missions, and sailing their ships, and running their submarines in and around these areas,” Connaughton said.

Here is the text of a teleconference Monday, Jan. 5, 2009, by Jim Connaughton, Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2009/01/20090105-7.html.

Here is the Aug. 25, 2008 powerpoint from the White House, introducing the idea of the establishment of the new Pacific monuments:

©2009 Jan TenBruggencate

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