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Outreach

Establishment of Three New Marine National Monuments Assisted by Information from the USGS


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Pacific Ocean region, showing locations of islands and atolls included in three new marine national monuments announced January 6, 2009.
Above: Pacific Ocean region, showing locations of islands and atolls included in three new marine national monuments announced January 6, 2009. Map modified from figure 1 in Marine Mineral Resources of Pacific Islands—A Review of the Exclusive Economic Zones of U.S. Affiliation, Excluding the State of Hawaii (USGS Circular 1286. [larger version]

Map of Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.
Above: Map of Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. USGS geologist Jim Hein has studied sea-floor geology and mineralization in this area since 1986 and was consulted frequently by Federal officials planning the monument. (HMRG, Hawaii Mapping Research Group.) [larger version]

Liquid CO2 bubbles being released from fractures adjacent to white-smoker sulfur chimneys at the Champagne vent, NW Eifuku volcano in Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.
Above: Liquid CO2 bubbles being released from fractures adjacent to white-smoker sulfur chimneys at the Champagne vent, NW Eifuku volcano in Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. (See Sound Waves article, "Exciting New Discoveries in Submarine Hydrothermal Systems, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.") [larger version]

The deepest point on Earth, exotic animals living around deep-ocean hot springs, an undersea pool of molten sulfur, spectacular coral reefs, and habitat for rare sea turtles, whales, and seabirds recently received protection as part of three new marine national monuments in the Pacific Ocean.

At a White House ceremony on January 6, 2009, President George W. Bush announced the new national monuments:

  • Rose Atoll Marine National Monument protects the pristine coral reef ecosystem around a remote part of American Samoa. One of its most striking features is the pink hue of fringing reef caused by the dominance of reef-building coralline algae.

  • Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument protects the pristine coral reef ecosystems around Kingman Reef; Palmyra Atoll; Howland, Baker, and Jarvis Islands; Johnston Atoll; and Wake Island—the site of a pivotal battle in World War II and a key habitat for nesting seabirds and migratory shorebirds.

  • Mariana Trench Marine National Monument consists of three components:
    1. The waters and submerged lands encompassing the coral reef ecosystem of the three northernmost islands of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. These islands are home to a striking diversity of marine life—from such large predators as sharks and rays to more than 300 species of stony corals.
    2. The Mariana Trench, approximately 940 nautical miles long and 38 nautical miles wide and site of the Challenger Deep—the deepest point on the ocean floor at approximately 11,000 m (36,000 ft) below sea level.
    3. Active undersea volcanoes and thermal vents in the Mariana volcanic arc and backarc, which support life under enormously harsh conditions. Many scientists believe that extreme conditions like these could have been the first incubators of life on Earth.

During the planning of these marine national monuments, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was asked for scientific background information, and numerous USGS scientists contributed their knowledge about the areas under consideration. One of these, research geologist Jim Hein of the Western Coastal and Marine Geology team, has studied sea-floor geology and mineralization in the Mariana Islands since 1986. Hein was consulted many times by personnel in the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) as they planned the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. These consultations included an October 2008 briefing for then-CEQ Chairman James Connaughton and his staff on the geology and mineral resources of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (see related article in Sound Waves,"Exciting New Discoveries in Submarine Hydrothermal Systems, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands"). Additional information from many USGS researchers was compiled and forwarded to DOI and CEQ for use during delineation of the new monuments. Briefings and background information were also provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

The Mariana Trench National Marine Monument is located at a subduction zone where two of the Earth's great tectonic plates, the Pacific Plate and the Philippine Sea Plate, converge. During this slow-motion collision, the Pacific Plate is plunging westward beneath the Philippine Sea Plate, creating the Mariana Trench. Melting of sediment and rock on the upper part of the diving plate produces magma that rises through the overlying crust and erupts to form a chain of sea-floor volcanoes and thermal vents—the Mariana volcanic arc—west of the trench. Many of the volcanoes break the surface, forming the Mariana Islands. The Mariana Trench Marine National Monument contains the largest active serpentine-mud volcanoes on Earth, including one that is more than 30 miles across. The Champagne vent, located at the Eifuku submarine volcano, produces almost pure liquid carbon dioxide; this phenomenon has been observed at only one other site in the world, the Okinawa Trough. A pool of liquid sulfur, the Sulfur Cauldron, occurs at Daikoku submarine volcano. The northernmost Mariana reefs, unlike other reefs across the Pacific, provide unique volcanic habitats that support marine biological communities requiring basalt. East Diamante volcano and Maug Caldera are two of just a handful of places on Earth where photosynthetic and chemosynthetic communities of life are known to come together.

The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument spans seven areas to the far south and west of Hawai‘i. In addition to some of the most pristine and spectacular coral reefs in the world, it includes habitat for nesting seabirds and migratory shorebirds; unique trees, grasses, and birds adapted to life at the Equator; and rare sea turtles, whales, and Hawaiian monk seals. These isolated specks of land and rich marine ecosystems are almost completely undisturbed by humankind. As part of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, they will be ideal laboratories for scientific research.

Photographs taken during a 2005 multinational exploration of the South Pacific Rose Atoll from space.
Above left: Photographs taken during a 2005 multinational exploration of the South Pacific, sponsored in part by the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and its Undersea Research Program (NURP). Large photo, submersible Pisces IV at 320-m depth in Kingman Reef, one of the few locations where the expedition found gold coral. Inset, roughy fish species seen at Rose Atoll, Jarvis Island, Kingman Reef, and Palmyra Atoll at depths of 350-500 m. To learn more about the expedition, see "Exploration of South Pacific Finds Strange New Species and Magical Scenes." Photographs courtesy of NOAA/NURP. [larger version]

Above right: Rose Atoll from space. The rim is a broad, continuous reef enclosing a shallow central lagoon as much as 20 m in depth; a single narrow passage in the north connects the lagoon to the open sea. Two islets on the eastern side—Rose Island and the smaller Sand Island—have a combined land area of 6 hectares. Scale approximate. (Modified from image ISS013-E-66000.JPG, courtesy of Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA-Johnson Space Center, "The Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.") [larger version]

The Rose Atoll Marine National Monument centers around a diamond-shaped island in American Samoa—the United States' southernmost territory. It includes rare species of nesting petrels, shearwaters, and terns, which account for its native name meaning "Island of Seabirds." The waters surrounding the atoll are home to many rare species, including giant clams and reef sharks, as well as an unusual abundance of rose-colored coralline algae.

Taken together, the three new marine national monuments encompass 195,274 mi2, even more area than the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (139,797 mi2), which was established in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands by President Bush in 2006. As national monuments, all are protected under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which allows the government to immediately phase out waste dumping, as well as commercial fishing and other extractive uses. Recreational fishing, tourism, and scientific research with a Federal permit can still occur inside the marine national monuments. The designations also will not conflict with U.S. military activities or freedom of navigation.



Related Sound Waves Stories
Exciting New Discoveries in Submarine Hydrothermal Systems, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
July 2007

Related Web Sites
Marine Mineral Resources of Pacific Islands—A Review of the Exclusive Economic Zones of Islands of U.S. Affiliation, Excluding the State of Hawaii - USGS Circular 1286
USGS
Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument
NOAA
Exploration of South Pacific Finds Strange New Species and Magical Scenes
NOAA

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in this issue:

Fieldwork
cover story:
Barrier Island Evolution: Ship and Horn Islands

Manatee Health Assessment

Research Food and Location Influence Sea Otter Exposure to Disease

Outreach Three New Marine National Monuments

Staff New Engineering Technician Joins WCMG Team

Publications New Report on Sea-Level Rise

Tagging and Tracking Marine Animals

March 2009 Publications List


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Updated April 15, 2014 @ 01:53 PM (JSS)