- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2009

President Bush plans to designate three remote Pacific island chains as national monuments in what will be the largest marine conservation effort in history.

The three areas - totaling some 195,280 square miles - are expected to include the Mariana Trench along the Northern Mariana Islands, Rose Atoll in American Samoa and seven islands in the central Pacific Ocean.

White House press secretary Dana Perino confirmed plans for an announcement by the president on Tuesday but declined to provide other details. The areas will be protected under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

The president’s action will prohibit the destruction and extraction of natural resources from the areas, Mrs. Perino said, adding that the designation will not conflict with U.S. military activities or freedom of navigation.

“The public and future generations will benefit from the science and knowledge gained” from the areas, she said.

Two years ago, Mr. Bush 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 to be designated Tuesday are larger.

Unclear Monday were the exact boundaries of the new marine monuments or to what degree they will be protected. Environmentalists said they expected commercial fishing to still be allowed in some of the areas.

Mr. Bush’s declaration of the Mariana Trench, the world’s deepest underwater canyon, comes a century after Teddy Roosevelt first protected the Grand Canyon as a national monument in 1908.

The move also will boost the environmental record of a president who has been criticized for not doing enough against air pollution and global warming.

Friends of the Monument, an environmental group based in the Northern Mariana Islands who supported the monument designation, said they will monitor the announcement closely to make sure it includes all the areas deserving protection.

Advocacy groups wanted as much as 115,000 square miles in the Northern Mariana Islands to be protected, but government officials and indigenous communities in the Northern Marianas had concerns about sovereignty, fishing and mineral exploration.

“If the monument is smaller than we asked then that is OK,” Agnes McPhetres, vice chair of the group, said. “We still applaud President Bush for taking the first step.”

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