President George W. Bush deserves praise from ocean lovers for his creation of three new marine national monuments in the Pacific Ocean. This action protects some of the few remaining pristine coral reefs in the world by prohibiting all forms of commercial fishing and severely restricting recreational fishing.

These are among the last places on the planet where you can still see sharks and other top predators in something like a healthy state. President Bush — and the Pew Environment Group, Marine Conservation Biology Institute and Environmental Defense Fund, who worked so hard for these monuments — can be justifiably proud of the results.

It’s easy to point out that the protected areas around the 10 islands could have been 16-times larger if Bush had included the full 200-mile exclusive economic zone in the monuments. As National Geographic scientist Enric Sala points out, there’s no magic scientific line at 50 miles. It looks more like a political line to me.

And I can’t help but observe that those same corals now protected as national monuments are still at grave risk from climate change and ocean acidification, which the Bush administration studiously ignored for its full eight-year term. The incoming Obama administration, then, certainly has some opportunities to finish the job.

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Still, it would be churlish not to give credit where it is due, and President Bush certainly deserves credit for acting when there was no political benefit to be gained; even his own vice president opposed creating the monument. When you add the roughly 335,000 square-mile-area in the Pacific that is now protected from virtually all fishing to the nearly 700,000 square miles he closed to bottom trawling, the most destructive kind of fishing gear, this president has given future generations an ocean gift nearly the size of Texas and Alaska combined.

That’s something for which all of us who are working to protect and restore our oceans can be grateful.

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