President Bush has made history by establishing the largest marine reserve ever created, designating three remote Pacific Ocean areas as national monuments. The protected areas, encompassing 195,280 square miles, include the Mariana Trench, the world's deepest canyon, and other mostly uninhabited atolls and reefs near American Samoa and the equator. Although Bush's overall environmental record leaves much to be desired, this is a rare bright spot that will leave a lasting imprint.
The new reserve, which includes mountains, corals and a chain of 21 underwater volcanoes, is one of the most pristine places on Earth. It will forever protect hundreds of endangered and rare species of birds, fish, especially some sharks, and other marine life. Commercial fishing, mining and other threatening activities will be barred inside the reserve. U.S. naval ships and other approved maritime operations will not be inhibited.
Environmentalists say Bush's move will have lasting global impact. "If we can keep that area untouched," said Diane Regas of the Environmental Defense Fund, "it will provide an unparalleled scientific resource and a huge investment in improving the planet's resilience to climate change."
Not everyone, especially islanders near the designated tracts, likes the move. They argue that, among other limits, it takes away fishing rights and restricts plans for economic development. They may have good arguments, but two years of scientific study shows that the global benefits of the protected tract far outweigh the drawbacks.
This time, Bush did a tremendously positive thing for the environment by signing an executive order to protect an enormous area in the Pacific. Perhaps it could have been even larger, and the restrictions could have been tougher. It also does not make up for his many wrong-headed policies that crippled endangered animal and plant protections, stymied climate change initiatives and handed over public land for oil and gas exploration. But it is a foresighted gift to the world during Bush's final days in office, and all it took was the stroke of his pen.