The home of a giant land crab, a sunken island ringed by pink-colored coral, and equatorial waters teeming with sharks and other Jaws-like predators are being designated national marine monuments by US President George W. Bush in the largest marine conservation effort in history.
The three areas ?totaling some 505,760km??include the Mariana Trench and the waters and corals surrounding three uninhabited islands in the Northern Mariana Islands, Rose Atoll in American Samoa and seven islands strung along the equator in the central Pacific Ocean.
Each location harbors unique species and some of the rarest geological formations on Earth, from a bird that incubates its eggs in the heat of underwater volcanoes to a sulfur pool ?the only other known sulfur pool exists on Jupiter? moon Io.
All will be protected as national monuments ?the same status afforded to statues and cultural sites ?under the 1906 Antiquities Act. The law allows the government to immediately phase out commercial fishing and other extractive uses.
However, recreational fishing, tourism and scientific research with a federal permit could still occur inside the three areas. The designations will also not conflict with US military activities or freedom of navigation, White House officials said.
It will be the second time Bush has used the law to protect marine resources. Two years ago, the president made a huge swath of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a national monument, barring fishing, oil and gas extraction and tourism from its waters and coral reefs. At the time, that area was the largest conservation area in the world.
The three areas that were to be designated yesterday are larger.
They also came with some opposition and fell short in size and scope of what environmentalists had hoped for.
Northern Mariana Islands government officials and indigenous communities initially objected to the monument designation, citing concerns about sovereignty, fishing and mineral exploration.
?hese locations are truly among the last pristine areas in the marine environment on Earth,?said James Connaughton, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality in a call with reporters on Monday.
He said the resources the administration sought to preserve would be fully protected.
In Pago Pago, American Samoa, Governor Togiola T.A. Tulafono said on Monday that the designation of Rose Atoll as a national monument would attract research scientists.
Rose Atoll is home to 26m-tall trees and is a vital nesting ground for threatened green sea turtles and endangered hawksbill sea turtles.
It? the smallest atoll in the world, with only about 8 hectares of land.
The move is a boost to the environmental record of a president who has been criticized for not doing enough against air pollution and global warming. He also lifted a moratorium on oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
It will be up to president-elect Barack Obama to hammer out how the areas will be managed and to make sure that the prohibitions are enforced.