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Published: January 5, 2009

WASHINGTON - President Bush will designate vast tracts of American-controlled Pacific Ocean islands, reefs, surface waters and sea floor as marine national monuments on Tuesday, limiting fishing, mining, oil exploration or other commercial activity, White House officials said Monday.

The protected zones, including parts of the deep Mariana Trench and a string of largely uninhabited reefs and atolls near the Equator and American Samoa, include a total of 195,280 square miles, an area larger than the states of Washington and Oregon combined.

The islands, atolls, reefs and underwater mountain ranges offer unique habitat to hundreds of rare species of birds and fish. Among them are tropicbirds, boobies, frigate birds, terns, noddies, petrels, shearwaters and albatrosses, according to environmental groups who pushed for the protection. It is also the habitat of the rare Micronesian megapode, which incubates its eggs using subterranean volcanic heat.

The president's action, which requires no Congressional or other approval, builds on the designation two years ago of the 139,000-square-mile Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the northwest Hawaiian Islands under the federal Antiquities Act.

Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, said Mr. Bush's action would preserve huge ocean areas for future generations and would not conflict with military activities or freedom of navigation.

"With the designation of the world's largest marine reserve in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in 2006, and now these three other sites, George W. Bush has done more to protect unique areas of the world's oceans than any other person in history," said Joshua Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environmental Group.

The declaration came after two years of study and relatively modest opposition from commercial and recreational fishing groups and some officials in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, who feared it would throttle future economic development.

The Central Pacific islands and atolls are known as the Line Islands, extending nearly 2,000 miles and including Johnston Atoll; Howard, Baker and Jarvis Islands; Kingman Reef; Wake Island; and Rose Atoll. They are remote and largely uninhabited. Most became American territory under the Guano Islands Act of 1856, which allowed sea captains to claim islands that were rich in guano - bird and bat droppings - which were used to make fertilizer and gunpowder.

In the western Pacific Ocean, the declaration includes the marine waters around the Northern Marianas, including the Mariana Trench, the deepest canyon in the world.

Some officials of the Marianas complained to the White House that protecting the islands and waters would limit economic opportunity for islanders and strip them of their authority to regulate their resources. But others welcomed the decision.

Diane Regas of the Environmental Defense Fund said the designation had both short-term ecological benefits and a longer-term favorable impact on global warming.

"If we can keep that area untouched," Ms. Regas said, "it will provide an unparalleled scientific resource and a huge investment in improving the planet's resilience to climate change."

More Articles in US » A version of this article appeared in print on January 6, 2009, on page A13 of the New York edition.

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This will certainly be a positive notch in Bush's legacy, and from a guy who "hates the environment." The previous designation more than doubled the size of all National Parks and Monuments combined, and this set is even larger than the first. As I understand it, the previous tract is key shark breeding ground and sets aside a safe haven for the sharks that are being relentlessly finned by Asian fleets.

Key to this, of course, is enforcement. We can only hope that effective monitoring and enforcement stands behind the designation.
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