With just two weeks left in office, President George Bush last week announced that nearly 200,000 square miles of the Pacific would be become conservation areas.
The three remote Pacific island chains, which make up an area roughly the size of Spain, belong to the United States have been designated ~national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which is used to protect scientific and historical sites. This means they will be protected from commercial fishing, mining, waste dumping and other uses.
The area includes some of the few remaining pristine coral reefs, parts of the Mariana Trench - the world's deepest canyon and an area which is home to a huge amount of marine species.
Picture of the Mariana Trench area, by K Musser/NOAA. Creative Commons.
Dr Healy Hamilton, an evolutionary biologist with the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco told the Mercury News: "These places are like time machines. They provide us a window as to how oceans looked prior to many of the negative impacts of human activities. It's one of the most important moves in marine conservation in recent decades."
Alongside his action in 2006 when Bush made the Northern Hawaiian Islands a national monument, this announcement will make Bush the president who will have protected more square miles of the planet than any other world leader in history.
President Bush said: "For sea birds and marine life, they will be sanctuaries to grow and thrive. For scientists, they will be places to expand the frontiers of discovery. And for the American people they will be places that honour our duty to be good stewards of the Almighty's creation.
Bizarrely this comes less than a month after Bush s administration finalised a proposal which means that federal agencies no longer have to consult with wildlife agencies if their actions will potentially affect endangered species.
They do not have to consider emissions and the effects of global warming and will now only protect endangered species in recorded ranges and not historical ranges.