Jan 8th 2009
From The Economist print edition
The departing president tries to burnish his environmental halo
IN THE dying days of his administration, George Bush has done something remarkable for a man unlikely to be remembered as a friend of the environment. With an eye, perhaps, on his legacy he has pulled off the largest marine-conservation effort in history.
The ocean is increasingly thought by conservationists to need the equivalent of wildlife parks—areas that are naturally diverse where plants and animals can be allowed to live and breed unmolested by man. But such marine reserves are rare, so conservationists want more of them. In 2006 Mr Bush gave them part of their desire by establishing what was then the world’s largest marine protected area—Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, in north-western Hawaii. It is home to some 7,000 species, including the monk seal and spinner dolphins.
Now, with another flourish of the presidential pen, he has done something similar in three new areas in the Pacific Ocean, around the Mariana Islands, Palmyra Atoll and Rose Atoll, totalling more than 500,000 square kilometres. This will protect some stunning areas of pristine reefs containing many large animals (such as reef sharks and giant clams) that are badly depleted elsewhere.
Although the protection is not as extensive as they had hoped, environmental groups are thrilled. And although Mr Bush deserves credit, so too do the green groups that have lobbied for this. Some of them, such as the Pew Environmental Group and the Environmental Defence Fund, are well known. But much of the scientific donkey-work and lobbying behind Mr Bush’s reserves was done by a smaller organisation, the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, in Washington. Congratulations.