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George W. Bush: Briefing by Teleconference with Jim Connaughton, Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality
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George W. Bush
Briefing by Teleconference with Jim Connaughton, Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality
January 5, 2009
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4:06 P.M. EST

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Good afternoon, everybody, this is Jim Connaughton, the Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. I'm here today to brief you on an action the President is going to take tomorrow with respect to ocean conservation.

So tomorrow afternoon the President is going to use his Antiquities Act authority to designate three new areas in the Pacific as Marine National Monuments. The President's action tomorrow will cap off an eight-year comprehensive ocean conservation strategy. The areas that the President is going to designate in total will comprise the largest areas of ocean or ocean seabed set aside as marine protected areas in the world, coming in at 195,000 square miles.

By designating these areas as Marine National Monuments this -- part of our marine environment will receive the highest level of recognition and the highest levels of conservation. Today's action will prevent the destruction and extraction of some of the nations and the world's most pristine natural resources that are also enormously rich in biodiversity. The conservation action is going to benefit the public and future generations through enhanced science, knowledge and awareness, and just good old-fashioned inspiration, because these places are exceptionally dynamic when it comes to the marine environment.

The action is going to conserve these places in the future in a way that also fully respects our nation's national security needs by ensuring freedom of navigation for all vessels in accordance with international law and by ensuring that our military can stay ready and be globally mobile. So we'll be focused on -- we've got a strategy that enables us to do both.

Let me briefly describe for you the three monuments, their names and their features, and then I'll look forward to opening it up for questions.

So the first of the monuments will be the Marianas Marine National Monument. This will have two main components. One of the main components will be the Marianas Trench and the long arch of submerged active volcanoes and hydrothermal vents that run along the entire Marianas Island chain. The Mariana Trench contains the deepest places on earth. The trench in its deepest point is deeper than Mount Everest is high, and it's more than 1,500 miles long and 44 miles wide. So to compare that, it's about five times longer than the Grand Canyon and several times wider.

The active volcanoes and thermal vents, there are about 21 of them that run along the island chain, and we're talking about active volcanoes and these hot thermal emissions that come out of the surface of the -- the bottom of the sea, you know, anywhere from a thousand feet deep to 5,000 feet deep. Just to give you an example, one of the volcanoes is responsible for a sulfur pool, which is a phenomenon. The next place that occurs that we know of is on the moon of Io off of Jupiter. The thermal vents produce heat from the core of the earth, produce heat that boils the water to very, very high temperatures, and also makes the water highly acidic. In one place, the water is a pH of one. And yet in this very, very harsh environment, you have thriving, living resources -- something we want to learn a lot more about.

The other major feature of the Marianas Marine National Monument will be the pristine coral reef ecosystems that surround the three northernmost islands of the chain. These ecosystems are home to more than 300 species of stony corals and they have some of the highest fish abundance and fish diversity in the entire Marianas Islands chain -- it's about 14 islands.

In this setting, all of the resources that we're identifying will be fully protected. With respect to the coral reef ecosystem, this will include prohibitions on commercial fishing.

The second monument the President will be announcing is the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument. This monument will include the pristine coral reef ecosystems that surround the following federal land: Kingman Reef; Palmyra Atoll; Howland, Baker, and Jarvis Islands; and Johnston Atoll; and Wake Island -- so seven areas. These areas are home to a very large number of nesting seabirds -- millions of seabirds -- and migratory shorebirds. They contain pristine corals with hundreds of different fish species and an unusually large abundance of what are called apex predators, things like sharks. They're also home to endangered turtles, and at Johnston in particular, intersects with the marine community that's up in the northwest Hawaiian Islands which the President established as a national monument two years ago. So there's a linkage.

The third marine national monument there is Rose Atoll Marine National Monument. Rose Atoll is a remote area within the EEZ area around American Samoa. It is a tiny but spectacular coral reef area that's renowned for the pink hue of its fringing reef that's caused by coralline algae. And it's also off the charts when it comes to the extent of coral cover. It has some of the broadest extent of live coral cover of any place on earth -- again, something we can learn from, given the breadth of it over the system. It also includes rare species of nesting petrils, shearwaters, and terns.

The waters around Rose Atoll also are home to giant clams, reef sharks, and very large parrot fish, and are a frequent location where you can find humpback and pilot whales and porpoises.

As part of the President's monument designation, he'll be incorporating specific measures that will fully provide for training readiness and global mobility of the U.S. armed forces and will, as I indicated before, ensure navigation rights and high seas freedoms under the Law of the Sea for all vessels, which are essential to stabilizing peace and prosperity for all civilized nations. So we will be able to afford high levels of protection and at the same time respect international law when it comes to navigational freedoms, which is very important as we undertake these conservation activities in the marine environment.

He will also be issuing a separate statement with respect to ensuring our national security in this region and ensuring that the protection of the ocean environment can be complementary and reinforcing priorities.

And then we will be asking the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior over the course of the next two years, in conjunction and cooperation with the governments of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, the government of American Samoa, and the government of Guam to develop these management plans, and come up with shared strategies for implementing them.

I think I'll stop there. This is a huge day for marine conservation. It's going to set yet another great mark for America as we inspire marine conservation activities all around the world. And it's -- once you get a hold of the b-roll here and you start looking at some of the photos that we'll make available to you, if you give Kristen Hellmer of my office a call -- you will see what we have been privileged to learn over the last many months as we've done our assessment about these unique places on earth.

So I look forward to your questions.

Q: Mr. Connaughton, thanks for taking our questions. Can you tell me more about the -- what are the navigation and national security aspects here, and how do they affect the level of protection that these areas will receive?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: We wanted to be sure that as we undertake conservation, it is done in a way that fully assures full freedom of navigation for vessels. This is an issue that comes up from time to time in other parts of the world. The U.S. is a strong supporter of international law on freedom of navigation. And so it would just assure safe passage, and free and innocent passage. We have done this. We did this with respect to the Hawaii monuments, and we do it throughout the U.S., coastal EEZ, near the mainland U.S.

We just want to be sure that as we undertake conservation, that's not used as a reason to bar navigation, navigational freedoms. So we just want to underscore that. But in terms of the effect it will have, we will be able to achieve the full and highest levels of protection for the marine environment through a well-managed and well-regulated set of management practices.

Q: But there will be limits on, or allowances for, military training -- or how would that be affected?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Well, actually we have set up the monuments in a way that's fully compatible with our future plans for military readiness training in the Pacific region, and fully compatible with the sort of the readiness and mobility you need for the military in that part of the world.

In fact, I want to underline we actually welcome the presence of the military in and around the monument, because they will be some of our best eyes and ears as to what's going on with the resource. These are very, very remote places. And as we, for example, build up the military in Guam, there will be opportunities for military personnel to actually learn more about the resource and help understand global awareness of the resource. And as well, the military will be flying their missions, and sailing their ships, and running their submarines in and around these areas. But I want to observe the active military activity will be taking place south of the Northern Islands, and so we have set this up in a way where it's going to be fully compatible with those activities.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Mr. Connaughton, thanks so much for taking our questions. Also, were there any changes made to the protections or the scope of the Marianas monument? There had been some media accounts, I understand, from local reports -- we do some reporting out of D.C. for a cable outfit in the -- in Saipan, and there had been some reports that the protections and the scope of the monument might be scaled down in response to concerns by local government officials, including the governor, who has been opposed to this monument because of the desire to protect fishing and mining activities that the local government might approve in that area.

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Well, first, let me say that the -- we received proposals ranging from do nothing, to do everything, including more than you need to do. So this assessment was a process of working through with the scientists, with government officials, and with a lot of the NGO community and citizens. You know, we talked to some chambers of commerce and business people, and even a lot of people active in the media covering these issues. From that process, which was very deliberate, we then crafted what I think you've now seen is a truly massive conservation outcome, and we've crafted it in a way that was able to take into account -- and in many instances simply explain away most of the concerns.

The government officials, in particular at CNMI, had some very legitimate issues that they wanted to understand further before committing to going forward. I have to say I spent many days in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas with government officials and others; I've spent many hours on the phone with people since then, and I'm very pleased to say -- and I think you'll find out -- that when we finally put pen to paper and crafted this large conservation outcome, we did so in a way that those government officials will now -- are now very pleased to fully support.

Q: So can you give us any specifics in terms of --

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Yes, let me give you a few.

Q: -- whether this was either in the area that's covered, has been scaled back, or in the activities that are affected was modified to allow for those activities in some areas to continue?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Let me give you a couple of examples. One area of very high importance, especially in the Northern Marianas Island chain, but also in Samoa, was being able to make provision for traditional indigenous practices.

Now, there's very, very limited intersection with these remote resources by the indigenous peoples, but they have a strong cultural heritage -- these are places of high importance to them culturally. And I think one of the highest priorities for the governments was to be sure that we were, as the federal government, respectful of those practices -- as we are routinely across the land part of the United States.

And so we were able to come up with an approach that would allow for that, very similar to what we did in Hawaii, by which the local government will be sure to sort of pay close attention to the desire of people to engage in indigenous practices in these areas and be sure that those are legitimately undertaken. So that's one example. We just needed to work through that until we spelled it out -- you know, folks were going to wait to agree until we spelled it out.

Another example was the issue of minerals. There was a concern that there would be a conflict between the potential for minerals development and the conservation actions we wanted to take. As we learned from the assessment, in close consultation with the scientists who had been working the area, the places where the minerals are likely going to be are not the places that we are looking to conserve. So there's not a significant potential or identifiable potential for mineral resources up in and around the three Northern Islands. There isn't significant potential for recoverable resources in the Mariana Trench. And as a practical matter, nobody in their right mind is going to go looking for minerals in the middle of a volcano that's active or in the middle of a thermal vent with a pH of one. So this is a great example where having done the science we were able to actually take an issue off the table because it wasn't relevant.

Let me give a third one. We were very interested in protecting the geologic and natural resource features of the seabed in the trench and the volcanoes. As indicated, there's an amazing amount of marine life in and around these volcanoes and on these vents.

There was a question as to whether there would be a commercial fishing restriction, with respect to those areas. But commercial fishing wasn't really relevant to the resource we were working to protect. And, in fact, most of these areas are not very productive for commercial fishing in any event. And so there was a fear that we'd be getting into commercial fishing restrictions outside of the Magnuson process, where it was actually completely unnecessary to assure full protection of the resource we were seeking to protect.

So those would be three examples. You know, they all are a bit complicated each in their own rights. We just have to work through it. And again, I want to underline, the Governor of the CNMI, the Speaker of the CNMI, and the Senate President of the CNMI all worked very well together with us and carefully, you know, got up to speed on all the same science we got up to speed with, and have, you know -- I think you'll find them coming out fully supportive of this conservation outcome.

Q: And the area -- has the area changed at all that the total square miles have --

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Well, we didn't go in with -- we didn't go in with a proposal. As I indicated, we had proposals ranging from, you know, cover the entire EEZ in all areas, to do nothing. And so what we did is we took all the information onboard and then crafted this conservation outcome based on recommendations up to the President.

So at the end of the day, the proposal is the proposal the President himself adopted, and that's what we're working with.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Connaughton. Can I ask why this was being done under the Antiquities Act versus under a marine-protected areas process? And I believe, and I don't have perfect recall, that there was some consternation with the current administration over the use of the Antiquities Act by the previous administration to do somewhat the same kind of thing concerning some lands in Utah.

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Well, first, let me treat the Antiquities Act. That's the law that was passed back in the early 1900s, first used by Teddy Roosevelt, that gave the President the ability to protect objects of scientific and historic interest. It has been used variously by Presidents over the years. It is the case that the prior administration used it, if you would, at the last minute without any consultation, and created a quite controversial outcome in the late '90s.

When we came into office, the President recognized the value of the exercise of Antiquities Act authority, but was very critical of the manner in which it was employed. And we committed that if we were to proceed with monuments, we would do so taking into account public input, and we would do so on act on consultation with the public and local governments, and we would seek to find a cooperative outcome, in particular with state and territorial governments.

And so in this instance, we had a very open process. We had I mean, tens of thousands of comments as I recall, several open meetings, a number of open meetings, including in the communities, and a very significant amount of interaction at the highest level of government, with the governors and legislative leadership as we forged this outcome.

So we have always strongly supported the Antiquities Act, but we've supported doing it right and effectively. The thing that the President can do with the Antiquities Act is he's able to bring together a series of authorities and orient them toward an integrated conservation outcome. So, for example, the Magnuson-Stevens fishing act largely deals with fishing. It does address coral reef protections and the like, but that's in the context of fisheries.

We have other acts that deal with scientific research. And we have other acts that deal with geological resources. What the President can do with Antiquities is knit those together in a more integrated conservation vision, and then at the same time use those authorities to accomplish management. So, for example, with respect to Rose Atoll, the President will be recommending that the Rose Atoll area be incorporated into the existing National Marine Sanctuary that is in place with American Samoa. So they'll all be under the same management regime. And so that will take a couple of years to work out.

So this is a great prerogative that the President has. We believe that it should be used responsibly, and we've done so here with just an incredible outpouring of scientific interest, support, and information.

Q: Thank you. If I could follow up with one other. I had read somewhere where commercial fishing would be allowed. I heard you say it would be restricted in some of the areas. I didn't hear mention of public access for recreational fishing, and how that was going to be treated in these areas, and whether the President's executive memo concerning how recreational fishing should be treated, at least under the marine-protected areas process, how that might play into this.

MR. CONNAUGHTON: So with respect to the various island units, so Rose, the central islands, and the three northern islands of the Marianas. We're establishing 15 nautical conservation management areas. Inside of that area we will be prohibiting commercial fishing.

With respect to other interaction with the resource -- it could be research access, indigenous access, if somebody were to request it for recreational fishing -- we are putting in place a process similar to that used by the Fish and Wildlife Service and Fish and Wildlife refuges where you consider those requests, and permit them, and tailor a management approach that ensures they can be done in a way that does not diminish the resource. And so there will be an opportunity for the truly adventurous, if they want to go out there, to make a request of the agency that's managing the resource for that kind of access.

We have some good experience with how to do this. At Palmyra Island today, which is one of the islands, the Fish and Wildlife Service has permitted, on a limited basis, some catch and release bonefishing, and that's being done, actually, in support of a science management plan where they need to catch the fish and tag them. And so they found a way to provide a pretty remarkable recreational fishing experience, but doing it in a way that's not -- you know, not even creating -- not creating any significant potential for harm to the resource we're seeking to protect. So we just want to be careful and thoughtful about how that's done, but the opportunity exists.

For those of you not familiar with the geography, though, I would underline, I said "truly adventurous." We are talking about thousands of miles out of sea. So there is virtually no recreational or individual-type fishing going on in these parts of the ocean. So to the extent that occurs in the future, I think it would be a rare occurrence in any event, which is why I think we could proceed with conservation with such high confidence.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Thanks very much. I was wondering if you could say anything about where this fits into concerns about the health of the oceans, and, you know, concerns about the endangered species and that sort of thing? There's just a lot of concern about sea life and corals and so forth.

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Well, to me, and the President and the First Lady, one of the things that really affected us, from learning from the scientists, is these locations are truly among the last pristine areas in the marine environment on earth. They are -- have had historically almost no human interaction or impact, and so we're able to see how the ecosystem works in a way that could actually help us inform management and conservation of the marine resources that are much closer to home.

And so for example, one of the central Pacific islands, in the Pacific (inaudible) island area, has just an inordinate abundance of upper apex predators -- you know, large sharks. In fact, they outnumber the smaller fish by several times. Well, we don't see that anywhere else in the world and the marine biologists are kind of scratching their head and saying, how can that be? How can the food pyramid be upside-down in this area, and what does that tell us about what these other coral areas should look like if we're managing them appropriately?

So there's an example. It's sort of the last living controlled experiment we've got to address what is now a growing global consensus to put an end to overfishing once and for all and restore the vitality of fish as a very important source of nutrition and a very important source of biodiversity on earth.

Q: If I could follow up, are the corals here threatened by ocean acidification and will there have to be special actions taken by fish and wildlife service or --

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Well, that's another great question, which is, because these are areas are pristine, it gives us the best opportunity to understand the effects of changes in the ocean system, including temperature changes, current changes, and ocean acidification, because you're not having to factor in other, if you will, much more significant influences that affect our ability to do science closer to home. That's why, as I said, this is like -- this is our best area for controlled science and we can learn about that.

But I would note that some of these coral systems are -- they're in very warm waters and they show a remarkable degree of resiliency and others -- you know, they're subject -- you know, whereas we see other areas that are subject to disease -- not here but in other coral areas in the Pacific -- and we're able to then begin to figure out why. We are at the frontiers of scientific research with respect to this. We've only been at it for a few decades, and in these areas we've only been at it for really just a few years at scale.

So there's a lot more to be developed, which is, again, one of the reasons to do this. It's really to draw the attention of the nation and the world to this part of the marine environment that is largely overlooked in our geography classes.

Q: Very good. Thank you, sir.

Q: Hi, good to talk to you. A quick question. You said 50 nautical miles was the limit of this. I gather in principle you could have gone out to 200 nautical miles. How did you arrive at the 50 nautical mile line?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: We had extensive conversations with the scientists who deal with corals, scientists who deal with fish, and the scientists who deal with foraging seabirds. And as we looked at those three interactions, we had a lot of strong support for looking well beyond the three-mile zones that a few of these areas were currently protected with, but much less foundation for going beyond 50. So 50 seemed to be a good point to draw the line for the purposes of the scientific benefits, if you will, of conservation, and also for the purposes of just effective monitoring and management.

These areas are quite remote, so it's helpful to have a fairly large area delineated, but we didn't want to go larger than the current weight that the science supported in terms of finding conservation benefit. So as you began to go out to 100 miles or 150 miles, it just wasn't clear we would be accomplishing much more in the way of fully protecting these coral reef ecosystems and the birds that surround them that we were interested in.

We may yet learn more, but there appeared to be pretty solid ground focusing on 50.

Q: And if I could just follow, if I could. You mentioned that it's going to be tough to monitor these areas. How are you going to do that?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Well, that will evolve over time, both with people in and about the resource, but also with advances in technology. So we begin to lay down the marks, we begin to put more monitoring systems, including passive monitoring systems that don't require people. And then people pay more attention, because when you draw these lines, as we've learned from Hawaii and people enter the resource, important questions are asked, as, what are they doing there? Is this innocent passage? Are they there for scientific reasons? And then people just have a heightened level of awareness.

We know that over time this evolves well because our experience with marine sanctuaries has shown that after time people become quite invested in the conservation program, and you get a lot of just personal self-policing. And with things like Google Maps and Google Earth, our capacity only increases. And to me, what's important is also let's learn more about what's happening under the water. Often we tend to focus on the surface or the very shallow coral systems, but these areas are an opportunity really to sort of revisit and reenergize our desire to learn about the depth of our world, even as we work on trying to get to Mars.

Q: Hey, there. So I wanted a very quick clarification of an earlier comment. So are you saying that recreational fishing through permitting will be allowed in all of these areas? Or are there any areas in which that activity would be absolutely prohibited?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: We've created a presumptive exclusion for -- with the initiation of the monument. And upon request they'll take a look at it on a location-specific basis. So as I indicated with the Central Islands, I think only one group, the Nature Conservancy, has asked for that, and they went through a process and have a well-managed process for doing it. That hasn't occurred at any of the other Central Islands that are currently being managed. So we just don't know what the potential for that is, but we've -- to allow some flexibility, we've put in a process. But it will be undertaken to ensure that the activity will occur as a sustainably managed activity.

Q: And then, just a separate question. Obviously we talked about the 50 versus 200 miles. I was wondering, there's also, I understand -- in terms of the -- for the length of the Marianas Trench, that's protected from the rim of the canyon to the sea floor, and not from the rim to the surface of the water. And I was wondering, again, if you could clarify what the scientific reasoning was behind that.

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Yes, so the objects to be protected, as a result of the science review, was the geologic and natural bottom resource. So once you get up above the rim and out to the rim, you're kind of in generic sea floor resource. If you go further out east, you begin to encounter the mineral resource, which is quite interesting. But the item of highest scientific value and interest is the geology and the living resource on that geology on the sea floor.

And so that's why I wanted to be clear, the trench and the volcano's events are going to be fully protected under the authorities of the Antiquities Act. The living resource in the water column, which you're asking about, Juliette, it's a very low productive area for fish and other marine life, so it was not an area that the science process identified as particularly significant. And so, at least in terms of the science as we know it today, there was no reason to consider fishing restrictions of any kind because they weren't related to the protection of the resource that we were focused on. Does that make sense?

Q: Yes.

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Because I've heard this different ways from folks. I just want to be clear, we're achieving full protection at 100 percent of these monuments with respect to the resources that we're seeking to protect. So I think there's been some confusion about that.

Q: Good afternoon. Thank you, sir.

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Thanks, Dean. Good to talk to you.

Q: Two questions. One, you mentioned monitoring. You also mentioned how remote this area is -- and I have actually fished this area quite a bit. And my question to you is, monitoring is one thing, but enforcement is an entirely different issue. And I don't honestly see how you can enforce any of this out there with the amount of government-based traffic that you have in the area. How do you plan to enforce these laws?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Well, let's begin -- first, this is our experience -- these are challenging areas to get to, so there's an embedded enforcement of just the difficulty of getting to these areas. Two, we operate from the presumption that most people who care about the resource, including your constituency, are law-abiding citizens, and so we expect that there will be a fair amount of increased awareness of the importance of the resource, and certainly that the boating community is very good about staying up to date on charts, especially the adventurous boating community, and staying up to date on -- just for safety purposes -- the conditions with respect to these remote areas.

Now, is there the potential for some Chinese commercial fishing fleet to come in and intrude the area? The answer to that is yes. And so one of our goals is through the management planning, and through several years of building out capacity, to also build out our capability to enforce.

And I want to underscore, that's probably the bigger issue here. So for example, in these areas that I talked about where there's large abundance of apex predators, like sharks -- well, shark fins carry a pretty high dollar value on the international market. There are agreed prohibitions on shark finning in U.S. waters, but these areas are remote, and so we hope that this will bring heightened awareness, attention, and resources to ensuring that we don't get illegal poaching in our waters.

And our own fishermen are really good about helping to self-police that because they, themselves, have an interest in assuring the sustainability of American fisheries.

Q: That's very true. Our fishermen are not generally the problem on an international scale.

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: No, and that's what I'm saying. Our fisherman, both commercial and recreational, are among our best enforcers.

Q: Quite right. But we don't have much enforcement for the other signatories to any of our fisheries agreements that we've signed. One follow-up question. You mentioned Johnston Atoll as being in this monument, and I'm wondering, Johnston Atoll is one of the main storage stockpile areas for American nerve gas and biological warfare weaponry. Are you planning to remove that to prevent any potential catastrophic accident leaking into this monument area?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Right now that is being managed by the military, and as are -- as are the facilities around Wake Island. And so we will be working very closely with the Department of Defense in the ongoing management of that. They're doing, as best as we can see, a pretty effective job of keeping tabs on that, and it's very important that they do so, and the people doing it are pretty solid professionals.

So as I've indicated, we'll -- we continue to raise the awareness, raise the importance of these areas, and as the military withdraws from some of these areas, we're able to ensure that they retain protections. Right now, a couple of areas are fully off-limits to anybody just for military purposes, but as the military transitions away and fulfills their obligations in terms of materiels management, we can then transfer them effectively to the resource agencies.

But there's not -- you know, the plans to do that are undertaken through another process. This monument declaration will just ensure that there's an orderly transition when that occurs.

Q: Thank you.

Q: I just wanted to clarify a couple of the other questions that have been asked. I haven't seen a map or detailed description of this area, so do I understand right that in some of the protected areas there would be commercial fishing allowed, and in some areas there wouldn't be? Or can you explain that one more time, please?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Yes. Again, with respect to the coral reef ecosystems in the 50 nautical mile areas around these islands, commercial fishing will be precluded. With respect to the bottom geologic resource, so the trench, the Marianas Trench, and the undersea active volcanoes and hydrothermal vents, we just don't deal with fishing because it's not relevant to the protection of the resource.

So fishing is handled under the Magnuson Act. I want to be careful about your question about restrictions, because in these areas under Magnuson-WestPac, they've actually done a fair amount of delineation and set certain restrictions with respect to certain fishing activities. So those are being undertaken in the context of the broader fishery resource being done by WestPac and by NOAA.

So, for example, around Rose Atoll, WestPac and NOAA have established a 50-mile zone that precludes large vessels from entering, so smaller vessels can go in. They just set up, down in the Southern Marianas Islands, they've just set up a new management area out to 50 miles, under Magnuson for bottom fish. And then in the Central Pacific, the WestPac has a whole series of different management plans with respect to corals, with respect to bottom fishing, and a series of other types of fishing.

So don't take away from this conversation that the other areas are unregulated. Actually, they are very effectively regulated under the Magnuson-Stevens Act and by WestPac. So this is -- these are complementary strategies.

Q: And then what other protections come under this -- these new national monuments? What else are people restricted from doing?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: The core of this is actually restriction against extraction or destruction of the resource that we're protecting -- so the coral reef communities, the geology and the unique living resources that inhabit the thermal vents and the undersea volcanoes, for example. And then there's things yet to be discovered as we go back to the trench and begin the process of exploration.

It was in 1960 that the Navy and a Swedish scientist made it to the bottom of the trench, 29,000 feet below the sea, and very few have gone back to try that. So we actually hope to open a new age of exploration into the deep sea, as well.

Q: Thanks.

Q: Thank you. Thanks for doing this. What lessons have you folks learned as you've traveled (break in telephone/audio feed) Hawaiian Islands Monument -- either lessons you've learned, or issues that came up you hadn't anticipated that, now that you know about, that will stand you or the next administration in a better position to move forward on these new ones? Are there some sort of lessons learned or issues raised by this most recent effort before this announcement?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Yes, let me highlight a few. First, there's still a lot we don't know about these marine systems. The science assessment, even to the scientists, when you sit down with them, they are just bubbling with enthusiasm, because every time they go out looking they just find things that boggle their imagination -- whether it's the diversity of the resource, the balance of the resource, the nature of the -- as we think about ocean warming or ocean acidification, the way these pristine resources, the resilience of these resources in the face of that, or the stress that they face -- these are, as I indicated, the frontiers of science. And that's what's truly inspiring. So that's one.

Two, as we think about things like deep sea -- the deep sea, and what value it holds for us either as a place of exploration, or what value it holds for us as a place of providing and then meeting human needs, we have learned -- we're just tipping -- touching the tip of what we can understand about those resources. So, for example, the minerals question that came up, there was a big concern that there would be mining in the middle of all these precious living marine resources. Well, as it happens, we've begun the assessment to show that those resources are in a very different place than where people thought they were. And that's kind of important and interesting.

And then, one other point I would make, I want to go back to the frontier science point. These extreme environments -- the fact that you have living resources in what are called chemosynthetic environments, rather than photosynthetic environments, you have living marine resources in these incredibly harsh environments -- that begins to open the door to all kinds of new ways of thinking about life. And that also is going to help inform our understanding of the potential for life beyond Earth. And so we are opening new doors and chapters to that kind of awareness.

What else? It underscores the continued importance of taking the time to consult, especially with local governments. And it underscores the continued importance of trying to knit together our management strategies so you can come up with an ecosystem-based approach to what we're doing, rather than what we called the silo-based approach, the issue-by-issue approach that typically occurs especially in the marine environment. And so this underscores the value of those consultations and the value of coming up with joint strategies for dealing with them.

And by the way, and it's hard, it's not easy. As I indicated, there were a lot of misperceptions. There were a lot of legitimate concerns that had to be addressed, and then a lot of challenges in trying to knit together different cultures even within the federal government over how to approach thinking about some of these resources -- and by the way, even within some several government agencies.

USGS thinks about things differently than the Fish and Wildlife Service does. NOAA Fisheries thinks about things a little bit differently than the Marine Sanctuary Program does. And they -- because they approach their different management agendas through different lenses and different statutory authorities. So this is the challenge of our management time, is to find ways to effect better, more integrated ecosystem-based management of our resources.

Q: Thank you. And just a little trivia question, if I may. It's -- if I remember correctly, 195,000 square miles.

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Yes.

Q: Up to this point, let's say, up to the point of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Monument, how much had been set aside by this administration, versus what we've seen since? Is there sort of a ballpark number?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: In the marine environment?

Q: Yes.

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: So it was Papahanau, which was about 140,000. We did the Davidson Seamount, which accounted for another 500 I think -- no, 700 square miles. And then we've done some expansions of some of the sanctuaries, or looking at expansions of some of the sanctuaries. And then for example, just -- imminent is going to be a decision to create eight new marine protected areas under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishing Act along the Southeast coast, and that's one the fishing community has developed for the sake of restoring the fish stocks.

So up until now we'd been I think probably up in the 200,000 range, and now we're going to be well in excess of 330,000 miles. If you want to put that in perspective, the entire marine sanctuary system is 19,000 square miles, and the -- I guess the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is 130,000 square miles. And in our marine conservation areas, we have been able to come up with strategies that afford the highest levels of protection, as well. So this is very, very big. You know, basically, in the last several years, it's on par with what we've been able to accomplish on land over the course of the last 100 years.

I can take one more question.

Q: Hi, thanks, Chairman Connaughton. I have one specific question and one question about -- more general question. Specifically, are any of these areas like no-take marine reserves like Papahanaumokuakea? And then, I know this is something you've worked on a lot. What does it mean for you to be able to see this before President Bush leaves office and how do you think this adds to the President's ocean legacy?

CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: So, first, the management requirements for all of these areas is in the same ballpark as what we did with Papahanaumokuakea. You have to tailor some of those things to deal with your unique circumstances. So, for example, in Papahanau at Midway we have a special access area that allows for a lot of interaction with resource. Here it's a little bit different. Here we thought it made sense to put in place this process for the consideration of non-commercial fishing activities. And so we'll see how that works out.

And so there's an answer. It's a little bit different. But in terms of no-take, I mean, they're all no-take. You can't destroy the resource. You can't extract from it, except under very carefully managed -- for example, for research purposes. So they're on par with the highest levels of protection afford anywhere in the world. And so it's a great next step.

In terms of the broader piece -- and I thank you for asking the question, because there's a strong bipartisan consensus in favor of more effective ocean management and marine conservation. And that manifested itself in the work we've done in the last eight years with the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, several supporting efforts by other groups to have a comprehensive approach to the marine environment and to sort of breathe new life into this idea of more integrated marine management.

And so these two very large efforts at marine conservation, with the Hawaii monument and these three new monuments, are just a piece of the broader agenda that includes ending over-fishing in America by 2010; it includes a substantially reinvigorated ocean research agenda, backed up, we hope, when we get beyond continuing resolutions, by more resources; and it also includes taking a look at how we do energy development, how we do minerals development, and how we use the highways of the seas in ways that are effective and complementary and consonant with our desire to conserve our resources.

So it's been richly rewarding to be able to deal with the subject in its full scale and scope, and all the way down to the work we've done with the fishing communities who have really stepped to the forefront on their own conservation agenda and are playing a leadership role and doing things like game fish status for red snapper and red drum. We've gotten -- the recreational community is strongly supporting now of the keeping tabs on their catch so we can actually do a better job with data of managing the resource to cruise ships paying a lot more attention, and the Navy paying a lot more attention to how it's managing these floating cities that they run.

So it's been -- it's just great, not just for America, but we are actually setting the mark for the world with respect to effective marine management.

So with that, I will thank you. Kristy Hellmer in my office has video and has maps and has pictures, so any of you who are looking for that kind of visuals or media, give Kristy a call and she'll provide that to you.

Thank you all very much, as we look -- if you have specific areas to follow up, give Kristy a call and we'll see if we can meet your needs. Thanks.

END 4:57 P.M. EST



Citation: George W. Bush: "Briefing by Teleconference with Jim Connaughton, Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality," January 5, 2009. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=85367.
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