Bush announces marine conservation areas

George Bush has given nearly 200,000 square miles of ocean special conservation status in one of his final acts as the US President.

Three new areas in the Pacific – including a trench containing the deepest place on earth – have been designated as Marine National Monuments, ensuring them the highest level of marine protection under US law.

The move is intended to promote research in the areas and allow ships, including military vessels, to navigate the waters, while protecting them from destruction, mineral extraction, waste dumping and – in some places – commercial fishing.

President Bush said the announcement was the “capstone of an eight-year commitment to strong environmental protection and conservation”, dismissing media criticism of his environmental policies during his two terms.

In a speech in Washington on Tuesday evening, he said that during his presidency air pollution had dropped by 12%, more than 3.6m acres of wetlands have been protected or improved, and remediation has begun on more than 11,000 industrial brownfield sites.

He added that his administration had dedicated more than $18bn on developing cleaner energy, improved the efficiency of fuel, lighting and appliances, and “built international consensus on an approach that will replace the Kyoto Protocol”.

“With all these steps, we have charted the way towards a more promising era in environmental stewardship,” President Bush said.

“We have pioneered a new model of cooperative conservation in which government and private citizens and environmental advocates work together to achieve common goals.”

But many environmental groups disputed Bush’s positive view.

“Eight years of environmental abuse is finally coming to its bitter end, but its impact will take years to overcome,” said Karen Wayland, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“In November, Americans sent a clear message that they’re ready for a new direction. The Obama administration will have a lot of work ahead of it to restore environmental protections.”

The three Marine National Monuments will include the Marianas Trench, which is the site of the deepest points on earth, including one trench deeper than the height of Mount Everest.

The other two will be the Pacific Remote Islands, to the far south and west of Hawaii, and the Rose Atoll, to the east of American Samoa.

The Environmental Defense Fund had worked with the Bush administration for more than two years to help identify the protected areas.

Executive director David Yarnold said: “Today’s announcement marks an enormous step in conserving the biodiversity of our planet.”

Kate Martin

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