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Three new national monuments protect exotic marine life

January 6, 2009 |  1:22 pm

A group of Brown boobies, a large seabird, at Johnston Island National Wildlife Refuge which is being considered as a new marine national monument. President Bush will sign legislation this afternoon to create three new national monuments in the Pacific Ocean -- adding nearly 200,000 square miles of protected waters to the 140,000 that Bush protected in 2006.  The Times' Kenneth R. Weiss explains:

With the stroke of a pen this afternoon, Bush will have set aside more square miles of ocean for protection than any other political leader in history....

The designations announced today will ban most commercial fishing and would vastly limit recreational fishing, and fishing by indigenous people or researchers. In all of the protected areas, seafloor mining will be prohibited.

The newly designated national monuments include the waters surrounding Howland, Baker, Jarvis and Wake islands; Rose, Palmyra and Johnston atolls; Kingman Reef; portions of the Mariana Islands; and the ocean floor of the Mariana Trench (a concession made to commercial fishermen will allow fishing above the trench's floor).

The new monuments' square footage is nearly that of Texas.

But not everyone's excited about the announcement, says our colleague Pete Thomas at the Outposts blog:

Fishermen? Naturally, they're upset.

Said Mike Nussman, president of the American Sportfishing Assn., on the group's website:  "What most people will fail to realize is that this designation process took approximately 60 days to complete. There was no proposal or scientific information available for public review and comment.

"We in the sportfishing community have significant issues with any process where the outcome prohibits people from accessing public resources, particularly when there is no open, transparent process to do so."

And fishermen aren't the only opposition to the move, according to the Washington Post:

In making the decision, Bush overruled the objections of recreational fishing interests and Vice President Cheney, who argued that the restrictions would create a dangerous precedent. Recreational fishermen will be required to apply for permits to fish in the protected areas.

Among the species that will receive protection through the designation are the coconut crab (the largest arthropod that lives on land), various nesting seabirds, and species of reef fish and sharks such as the blacktip reef shark.  (Check out the official maps of the new monuments here.)

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A group of Brown boobies, a large seabird, at Johnston Island. Credit: Lindsey Hayes / U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

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