Ocean monuments? Thank you, George Bush

No, really: THANK YOU, George Bush

Feature story - 6 January, 2009
Thanks to President George Bush three national monuments in the Pacific will be created to protect the largest amount of ocean in the world to date. This is a truly rare opportunity for us to applaud the Bush administration!

Marine reserves not only protect the ocean life within them - they help to sustain surrounding ecosystems and animals that pass through them - like whales.

A total of 505,775 square kilometres [195,280 square miles], containing some of the most ecologically-rich areas of the world's oceans, will be protected.

This outstanding decision, together with his protection of a large area of the Hawaiian islands in 2006, means Bush will have protected more ocean than any person in history, before he leaves office in just two weeks time. The decision was made under the Antiquities Act, which gives presidents the rightto single-handedly create protection areas and Bush has only used this once before.

Bush will save whales, sharks and corals

Two of the marine reserves that Bush will create include the Line Islands, an isolated and uninhabited archipelago in the central Pacific. The third marine reserve will be in the western Pacific, encompassing a few of the northern Marianas islands and the Mariana Trench, the deepest submerged canyon in the world.

Both regions boast a rich array of marine life including sharks, rare whales, birds and many other top predators along with unique corals and intricate deep sea ecosystems. Nearly 60 percent of the total area protected will be subject to prohibitions on fishing and other extractive activities.

Marine reserves are critical to preserving the diversity of marine lifethat keeps valuable ocean ecosystems functioning. As overfishing hasexpanded to the farthest reaches of the planet, 90 percent of thelargest fish have already been removed from our oceans and marineecosystems are on the brink of collapse. That's why we have been campaigning for a global network of marine reserves since 2004.

This is why the word "irony" was invented

Bush has threatened our entire planet's future by dragging his feet on climate change, and has previously given less attention toenvironmental conservation than any US president in history. If he is trying to make amends with these huge marine sanctuaries - he needs to realise that ocean protection is a two-sided coin.

Protecting sea life from dredging and fishing is a very good thing, but what the oceans need protection from just as much, if not more so, is climate change. Global warming will have catastrophic impacts on our oceans including mass coral death due to rising sea temperatures and loss of species from ocean acidificication.

And while marine reserves will not stop climate change, they will reduce the amount of environmental stress on marine ecosystems - giving them a better chance to adapt to the changes brought about by global warming. 

While the Bush administration has raised the bar with these newmonuments, we will be calling upon President-elect Obama to take muchbolder actions, in line with the best available science.

Are we there yet?

In order for our oceans to stand a chance with rising global temperatures and ongoing overfishing we need to set aside40 percent of our oceans as marine reserves. The total amount of ocean that will be fully protected by the Bush administration amounts to a mere tenth of one percent of what scientists recommend.

The lesson in this development? In the game of environmental sin and sainthood, nobody is beyond redemption. Other world leaders who might be feeling guilty for not doing enough environmentally may also be looking for ways to atone for their sins. Perhaps if they all took this one leaf out Bush's book, we'd be a lot further along in reaching our goal - to save our seas - before it's too late.

Take Action

If George Bush can make time to save the oceans, can't you? Take 30 seconds, and sign our petition to the United Nations for a global network of marine reserves protecting 40 percent of the world's oceans.

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