From: Mercury News
Published January 7, 2009 09:12 AM

Bush protects unique areas across the Pacific

President Bush on Tuesday established three new national monuments in the Pacific Ocean, setting aside for permanent protection pristine coral reefs, the world's deepest underwater canyon and marine environments teeming with tropical fish, sea turtles, manta rays and giant clams.

Ranging from the seven-mile-deep Mariana Trench near Guam to the tiny Palmyra Atoll 1,000 miles south of Hawaii, the new monuments are spread out across the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles from the California coast.

But despite their remoteness, they have close links with Bay Area marine scientists, who cheered the news.

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"These places are like time machines. They provide us a window as to how oceans looked prior to many of the negative impacts of human activities," said Healy Hamilton, an evolutionary biologist with the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

"It's one of the most important moves in marine conservation in recent decades."

The move follows a similar action by Bush in 2006 to establish a new monument in the northern Hawaiian islands. Combined with the latest announcement, Bush has now protected more ocean area than any president in history.

Tuesday's monuments total 195,000 square miles, an area 36 times the size of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, and more than 20 percent larger than California.

Hamilton has worked at Palmyra Atoll studying the DNA of coral reef species, particularly octopuses. Getting there, she said, involves chartering a 14-seat plane in Hawaii, at a cost of $25,000, for a four-hour flight from Honolulu.

A chain of 50 small islets, Palmyra is so isolated it has never been permanently inhabited by humans, or commercially fished, so it offers one of the world's rare opportunities to study ocean life in a truly untouched environment.

The California Academy and Stanford University both have researchers working at Palmyra Atoll, as part of a partnership started over the past decade.

The island's laboratory — complete with kayaks and high-speed satellite Internet access — was built with a $1.5 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, funded by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore of Woodside.

Privately owned until 2001, the island was purchased for $37 million by the Nature Conservancy with funding from several foundations including Moore and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation in Los Altos.

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