New Marine Monuments Declared by Bush Raise Management Questions

1/6/2009

Three New Marine Protected Areas Are Largest Designation in History

Arlington, VA – President Bush’s designation today of three marine national monuments in the central Pacific Ocean is an historic contribution to marine conservation, but raises questions of how these protected areas will be managed, said Roger McManus, vice president for Global Marine Programs at Conservation International.

McManus praised Bush for protecting more marine environment than any person in history, but noted that effective conservation requires maintaining the fish stocks and other species of the ocean ecosystems. He expressed concern that legal provisions allowing potential recreational and other non-commercial fishing can cause problems.

“Coral reef ecosystems can suffer major changes by significant removal of marine life for whatever the purpose,” McManus said.  

As an example, McManus said the U.S. Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary in American Samoa has suffered from intensive illegal overfishing by island residents due to lack of proper management. One of the three new federal marine monuments declared by Bush – the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument – will be primarily managed by the Department of Commerce, which also oversees the Fagatele Bay sanctuary.

Under the U.S. Antiquities Act, presidents have the authority to unilaterally designate National Monuments. Bush previously established the largest no-take marine reserve in the world – the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands – and the three new monuments declared today enhance his legacy of ocean stewardship.

The new monuments comprise the largest designation of marine protected areas in history, encompassing approximately 195,000 square miles – an area larger than California. All three sites include important coral reef ecosystems, and their designation as national monuments is intended to protect them from over-fishing, land-associated pollution and other harmful human activities. The remoteness of the sites and the protection they receive also should help build their resilience to climate change, which is a major threat to coral reefs worldwide.

The three new monuments include the marine areas around the three northernmost Mariana Islands, including the Mariana Trench and associated active underwater volcanoes and hydrothermal vents; Rose Atoll in American Samoa, and seven remote U.S. islands in the Central Pacific – Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll, Howland and Baker islands, and Jarvis, Johnston Atoll and Wake Island.

The islands and surrounding territorial waters of the monuments already are largely protected as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuges administered by the Department of the Interior under the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act.

The North Mariana Islands include spectacular near shore and off shore reefs, among the most isolated in the world. The chief threat to the offshore reefs has been illegal fishing by foreign flagged vessels. Monument designations include the Mariana Trench, the deepest place in the ocean, which only has been visited once by humans through the deep sea vessel the Trieste in 1960.
 
The U.S. island sites and those of the neighboring Line Islands and Phoenix Islands of the nation of Kiribati have been the focus of increasing research to better understand the ecology of coral reef ecosystems and their conservation. The more remote coral reef ecosystems, including Howland and Baker islands and Kingman Reef, are examples of how these ecosystems function and look without significant threats from humans.

McManus said monument designation should stimulate additional research and highlight the opportunities and need for increased coral reef conservation in the monuments and elsewhere in the world where reefs occur. He also called for accelerated international collaboration for coral reef conservation in the region.

The United States and the nation of Kiribati already are signatories to a treaty for managing fisheries in the area, and several other international conservation efforts for the region will benefit from monument designations. Conservation International (CI) and the New England Aquarium played a significant role in assisting Kiribati in establishing the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, the single largest marine protected area in the world. 

"The coral reef ecosystems of these new protected areas teem with marine life that is vital for healthy oceans and people who depend on them for survival," McManus said.

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Media Contact:

Roger McManus
Vice President, Marine Programs
Conservation International
Email: rmcmanus@conservation.org      
Phone: 202-285-6989

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