One of the many big political surprises in the US yesterday was news that the Bush administration was considering implementing two or more massive marine reserves in US territories in the Pacific. The move would protect some of the regions most remote coral reefs. What isn’t so surprising is that, according to the Washington Post, über vice president Dick Cheney is trying to scale back or block Bush’s plans (doesn’t the former work for the latter?).
Read the whole story in the Washington Post here.
President Bush’s vision for protecting two vast areas of the Pacific Ocean from fishing and mineral exploitation, a move that would constitute a major expansion of his environmental legacy, is running into dogged resistance both inside and outside the White House and has placed his wife and his vice president on opposite sides of the issue.
In 2006 he designated the nearly 140,000-square-mile Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands, creating what at the time was the world’s largest protected marine area. Scientists have advocated designating more such areas to protect them from the effects of overfishing, pollution and global warming, which are degrading oceans worldwide.
“There’s pretty strong evidence that everyone will benefit from the establishment of no-take reserves,” said Jane Lubchenco, a professor of marine biology at Oregon State University, adding that fish populations rebound both within the protected reserves and in nearby fishing grounds. “The administration made a major step forward in designating the Papahanaumokuakea National Monument, but that one alone is not enough to protect the full range of places and habitats and species that need to be protected. It will be part of [Bush’s] legacy, but his ocean and environmental legacy could be much, much more.”
One of the two marine reserves, or “marine conservation management areas”, includes a wide swath of the central Pacific ocean and some of the world’s most remote and pristine coral reefs, such as Kingman Atoll in the Line Islands.
Sadly, the article also highlights how close we came to having some similar reserves implemented closer to the continental US:
Bush initially explored the idea of establishing other protected areas closer to U.S. shores, including one off the southeastern coast near a group of deep-sea corals and another in the Gulf of Mexico. After commercial and recreational fishing interests and oil companies objected, the administration decided to pursue existing resource-management plans in those areas instead.
Political analysts interpret these moves as an attempt by Bush to build some sort of legacy before leaving office in early 2009. We should know later in the year whether any of his planned reserves are indeed implemented. And if they aren’t, I suspect the next president will be even more amenable to such logical solutions to some of our major environmental crises.
“Protecting places like this is one of the few things a sitting president can do that will live on in posterity and be remembered long after the other decrees and orders have been forgotten,” said Joshua Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environmental Group. “It would signal to the nation and the world that the sea needs to be treated as a threatened resource, and it will open up an era of global ocean conservation.”
Claudia McMurray, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for oceans, environment and science, said the administration will be “working up until the last week” of Bush’s term on the initiatives. “While it would take a significant amount of work, we haven’t ruled it out,” she said. “We feel fairly confident, scientifically, there are so many unique species in that area, from that standpoint, we think it’s important to wall off as much as we can.”