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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Monumental Marine Move

Air Date: Week of

Yellow Tang near Maug Island in the Mariana Archipelago. (Photo: Robert Schroeder, Courtesy of NOAA, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Coral Reef Ecosystem Division)

With two weeks left in office, President Bush has set aside an area in the Pacific Ocean the size of Texas for conservation. Three separate marine monuments have been created, one of which includes the Marianas Trench, the deepest part of the earth’s surface. Host Steve Curwood gets the update on the blue Bush legacy from Josh Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group which spearheaded efforts to create the Marianas sanctuaries.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth, I'm Steve Curwood.

President George W. Bush leaves office with a controversial green legacy—but some say he’s built an impressive blue one. First, a huge marine protected reserve north of Hawaii. And now three more Pacific Marine Monuments that include the Marianas Trench, the deepest spot on earth.

BUSH: We have pioneered a new model of cooperative conservation in which government and private citizens and environmental advocates work together to achieve common goals. And while there's a lot more work to be done, we have done our part to leave behind a cleaner, and healthier and better world for those who follow us on this Earth.

CURWOOD: The Pew Environment Group spearheaded the effort to give these reserves the legal status of national parks. Joshua Reichert is the Pew group’s managing director. And Josh, the president gets a lot of criticism on the environment, so what do you make of this blue legacy?

Soft corals and tropical fish share a paradise of habitat on the summit of an underwater volcano in near the Northern Mariana Islands. (Courtesy of the NOAA Submarine Ring of Fire 2004 Exploration and the NOAA Vents Program)

REICHERT: Well if you just look at the track record of the Bush administration with respect to the establishment of marine reserves, it’s a great record. The combination of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Monument which was designated back in the spring of 2006, together with these three new monuments, adds up to a told of 355,000 square miles of ocean surface. That’s more ocean, and frankly, it’s more of the surface of the earth that George W. Bush has protected than any other person in history. There are some people who suggest that neither one of the monument designations was a heavy lift – that’s not true. There was significant opposition from both the recreational and commercial fishing industries and there was some opposition from the military.

CURWOOD: Now President Bush has a reputation of not being that friendly with environmental concerns. What do you think makes the difference with him when it comes to marine issues?

REICHERT: Well, I think that both he and his wife, Laura Bush, for reasons that are a little bit unknown, have a particular affinity for the ocean environment. There was also strong interested on the part of Jim Connaughton who is the chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality in the White House, who in many respects led a rather long and sometimes lonely battle within the administration to get this done. And he really deserves a lot of credit.

CURWOOD: Tell me why these areas are so important in ecological, geological and biological terms, Josh.

Brown Booby and nest on Maug Island. Seabird populations in the Northern Mariana Islands support regionally important seabird colonies. (Photo: Russell Moffitt, Courtesy of NOAA, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Coral Reef Ecosystem Division)

REICHERT: The importance of that ecosystem can’t be emphasized enough. There we have coral reefs that are overlapping with some of the world’s most exceptional geology, creating the greatest diversity of sea mountain hydrothermal vent life which is known to science. It’s the only place on earth that has huge active mud volcanoes underneath the water. One of them is more that 31 miles across and in these particular areas; it’s believed that some of the oldest known life on the DNA tree exists. There’s the second boiling pool of liquid sulfur that’s ever discovered. The first one is on one of Jupiter’s moons, Io. Actually on land the only bird known to use volcanic heat to incubate its eggs exists which is Micronesian Megapode. In the Marianas as well as in the Equatorial Islands which was the second monument created are some of the highest concentrations of sharks and other apex predators that exist anywhere on earth. There are actually more big fish predators in these areas than there are prey. And it’s not exactly clear why that’s the case. Rose Atoll, which is the third monument, contains the highest density of live coral cover of any place in the world. And we can go on and on.

CURWOOD: Looking ahead now, the Bush administration is creating this monument, but in fact the Obama administration is really going to have to do the work – I would say on the ground, except in this case, I guess, you know, in the ocean, to get all this done. And the woman who’s going to be running the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has had a close relationship with your organization. How well do you think that Jane Lubchenco and the Obama administration will be able to put this monument into action?

Yellow Tang near Maug Island in the Mariana Archipelago. Photo: Robert Schroeder, Courtesy of NOAA, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, Coral Reef Ecosystem Division)

REICHERT: In general I think that Jane Lubchenco is a great appointment to NOAA. She’s a world-class scientist with a very active and public commitment to conservation and there – the agency hasn’t been led by somebody like that, perhaps ever. She’s an outspoken advocate for marine reserves. So I think that she will be a very active voice within this administration to do more of this kind of work. You’re right that the Obama administration will be left with the responsibility of making these monuments work in the water and on the ground. And that means there needs to be active financial support for research to build a visitors center and all of these things remain to be done, and obviously they’re not going to be done by the Bush administration.

CURWOOD: How optimistic are you that the Obama administration will do what you think is necessary for this?

REICHERT: I think the jury is out on that. I don’t have any doubt that the people who are going to be coming into this administration are going to want to make this happen. There are fiscal constraints that the Obama people are going to have to be living with that are going to make a lot of things much more difficult to do than they would have been some years ago. So we’ll just have to see. Obviously we will try very hard to make sure that the next administration frees up the resources that are needed in order to make these monuments work.

CURWOOD: Josh Reichert is managing director of the Pew Environment Group. Thank you so much, sir.

REICHERT: Thank you, Steve

[Bombay Dub Orchestra “Greenish Blue” from 3 Cities (Six Degrees Records 2008)]



Pew Environment Group's work in the Northern Mariana Islands


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