White House Hearts Oceans?

Surgeonfish at Rose Atoll, one of the ocean zones up for protection.© www.pifsc.moaa.gov

Last Monday the Bush administration announced that it is considering protecting some 891,000 square miles of Pacific Ocean waters as marine sanctuaries and monuments. The move would restrict or ban altogether fishing, resource extraction and other development in a marine area larger than Texas and Alaska combined in order to help promote the rebound of West Coast fisheries and marine ecosystems in general.

The areas slated for protection include a group of islands and atolls in the remote central Pacific, including the Rose Atoll near American Samoa, and some of the waters around the Northern Mariana Islands in the western Pacific. "These areas are host to some of the world’s most biodiverse coral reefs and habitat and some of the most interesting and compelling geological formations in all of our oceans," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.

The announcement was a pleasant surprise for some greens still reeling from the administration"s decision—which Congress has yet to approve—a month earlier to lift its ban on offshore drilling closer to home as a way to keep soaring gasoline prices down. But environmentalists point out that designation as a marine sanctuary or national monument could still permit commercial fishing and deep sea mining.

"However, if the president establishes these new sites as no-take reserves, where no extractive activity is allowed," Joshua Reichert of the Pew Environment Group told reporters, "it would be one of the most significant environmental achievements of any U.S. president."

Source: Reuters