Today President Bush is announcing his creation of 3 new national marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean totaling 195,000 square miles - the Marianas, Pacific Remote Islands and Rose Atoll National Marine Monuments.
In doing this the President took an important and exciting step in the right direction -- but it's only a step. It falls short of fully protecting the areas being designated and protects significantly less ocean area than had been proposed by conservation groups.
Here's a closer look at what's good about this announcement, what's bad, and what the next administration can do to expand much-needed ocean protections.
- He picked worthy areas that include unique ocean features like the Mariana Trench, which is the deepest place in the world's oceans, and areas of rich biological diversity around several Pacific islands and atolls - areas that contain pristine coral reefs, numerous species of sea birds, shore birds, ocean fish, as well as endangered sea turtles and whales.
- Commercial fishing is prohibited within 50 nautical miles of the islands and atolls.
- The monuments are not as large or as well-protected as many had hoped. For example, the protected areas extend 50 nautical miles from shore rather than out to the limits of U.S. jurisdiction (200 nautical miles), thereby excluding deeper ocean waters and the sea life within them.
- While the Mariana Trench itself received protection, the executive order only protects the area from the rim of the trench to the sea floor, not the rim of the trench to the ocean surface. Thus portions of the ocean waters above the trench and the wildlife within those waters are left unprotected.
- The monuments are not fully protected. For example, recreational fishing could still be permitted and there are no restrictions on the military's use of sonar, which can be lethal to whales and other marine mammals.
WHAT THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION CAN DO BETTER:
- The monuments should be fully protected and the areas expanded to include ocean waters out to 200 nautical miles. Dozens of scientific studies show that fully protected marine reserves have more and bigger fish than similar habitats that are fished, which makes them highly productive. Studies also show they have greater biodiversity than similar fished areas, which makes them more resilient in the face of climate change and other threats.
- To get the benefits marine protected areas have to offer as centers of productivity and resilience, the incoming administration should be systematic about creating a national network of marine protected areas that benefits the full range of ocean systems surrounding the country.
- Finally, we need fundamental reform in the management of our ocean resources if we are to protect ocean habitats so that fish and other ocean animals can thrive, have clean beaches that are safe to swim in and seafood that's safe to eat. We are looking to the new administration to do the heavy lifting that's needed to revive the oceans - for example, by truly ending overfishing, by being international leaders on controlling destructive fishing practices like bottom trawling, by cleaning up the ocean "dead zones" and by protecting us from the prospect of oil rigs off our beaches.
There are reasons to be hopeful. The incoming administration under President-elect Obama has selected Dr. Jane Lubchenco, a world-class scientist and conservationist to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA is the agency with jurisdiction over ocean fisheries, marine sanctuaries, coastal zone management and other important ocean programs.
What President Bush has begun, we will look to Dr. Lubchenco and others in the incoming administration to greatly expand on.