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Bush’s pushes for marine reserves

The president’s ambitious plan would conserve two large swaths of the Pacific.

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Coral in much of the Pacific Ocean, such as these specimens on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, are dying faster than previously thought.

Australian Institute of Marine Science/AP/File

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In its waning weeks, the Bush administration is sorting through options that could lead to the largest marine conservation reserves in United States history.

At issue: Proposals to protect at least one of two vast reaches of ocean that host some of the most pristine coral-reef and under-sea mountain ecosystems in the Pacific. One candidate, a loose cluster of islands and atolls in the central Pacific called the Line Islands, covers a patch of ocean larger than Mexico. The other, a section of the northern Mariana Islands, is larger than Arizona.

The administration has been heavily criticized for its stance on environmental issues such as global warming and for its last-minute efforts to ease some environmental regulations. So its interest in a bold marine-conservation move may seem surprising. But the president “has had a strong interest in the health of the oceans,” says Dennis Heinemann, a senior vice president with Ocean Conservancy, a marine-conservation group in Washington.

In 2006, President Bush established a vast marine reserve along the northwest Hawaiian Islands, the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument. The monument spans an area larger than all of the country’s national parks combined.

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