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A Monumental Decision

George W. Bush becomes the conservation president, at least at sea.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009; Page A12

YES, YOU READ that right. A man whose administration doesn't exactly have a green seal of approval from environmentalists will grant monument status today to three vast and breathtaking areas teeming with marine life in the South Pacific. Combined with other designations over the past eight years, including the creation of a 138,000-square-mile marine national monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands two years ago, Mr. Bush has now protected more ocean habitat (333,000 square miles) than any of his predecessors.

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Mr. Bush is using the American Antiquities Act to protect more than 195,000 square miles of marine habitat. This 1906 law gives the president the power to designate as national monuments any landmarks and other structures with historic or scientific value. Because Mr. Bush chose this route, as he did two years ago with the Hawaii designation, his action takes effect immediately, without a lengthy bureaucratic review under the federal marine sanctuaries law.

The Mariana Trench Marine National Monument includes 21 active underwater volcanoes, geothermal vents and the Mariana Trench. James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, noted during a media call yesterday that the trench is five times longer than the Grand Canyon and deeper, at its deepest point, than Mount Everest is tall. The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument encompasses five widely dispersed reefs, atolls and islands that are home to seabirds, migratory birds, turtles and an abundance of predatory fish, such as sharks. And, according to Mr. Connaughton, the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument in American Samoa boasts "some of the broadest extent of live coral cover on the Earth."

The ecosystems and geological formations that will now be protected from exploitation or disturbance will preserve the environment and some species that are disappearing in other parts of the world. Equally important, the national monuments will provide a platform for scientific discovery, particularly as the impact of climate change on the oceans becomes more apparent. "These locations are truly among the last pristine environments on Earth," Mr. Connaughton said. And thanks to Mr. Bush's action today, they will remain that way.

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