As one of his last acts in office President Bush has designated three areas of the Pacific Ocean, covering nearly 200000 square miles, as new marine “national monuments”.

The first is the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. At the heart of this protected area will be much of the Marianas Trench — the site of the deepest point on Earth — and the surrounding arc of undersea volcanoes and thermal vents. This unique geological region supports life in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. A fascinating array of species survive amid hydrogen-emitting volcanoes, hydrothermal vents that produce highly acidic and boiling water, and the only known location of liquid sulfur this side of Jupiter.

The other major features of the new monument are the coral reefs off the coast of the upper three islands in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. These islands, some 5,600 miles from California, are home to a striking diversity of marine life — from large predators like sharks and rays, to more than 300 species of stony corals.

The second new monument will be the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. The monument will span seven areas to the far south and west of Hawaii. One is Wake Island — the site of a pivotal battle in World War II, and a key habitat for nesting seabirds and migratory shorebirds. The monument will also include unique trees and grasses and birds adapted to life at the Equator; the rare sea turtles and whales and Hawaiian monk seals that visit Johnston Atoll; and, according to the White House, some of the most pristine and spectacular coral reefs in the world.

The third new monument will be the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument. Rose is a diamond-shaped island to the east of American Samoa. It includes rare species of nesting petrels, shearwaters, and terns — which account for its native name, “Island of Seabirds.” The waters surrounding the atoll are the home of many rare species, including giant clams and reef sharks — as well as an unusual abundance of rose-colored corals.

These three new protected areas cover nearly 200,000 square miles and will now receive America’s highest level of environmental recognition and conservation.

Further Reading: The White House

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