World’s Largest Marine Sanctuary

September 2, 2008 / 12 Comments

We usually get really excited when things on Earth happen the way they should and that’s what could happen now that President Bush has made a public proposal last week. He wants all the 15 islands in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and parts of the islands in the Pacific to be granted the national-monument status, which would lead to the world’s largest marine reserve on the planet as big as Texas and Alaska combined.

“Life on Earth changes all the time, but these are like time machines that take us back to the time when humans didn’t impact coral reefs in any significant ways,” said Enric Sala, a marine ecologist and National Geographic fellow and emerging explorer.

small isle near saipan island Worlds Largest Marine SanctuaryAerial view of a small pristine isle near Island Saipan

large ancient lobe coral in kingman reef Worlds Largest Marine SanctuaryLarge ancient lobe coral in Kingman Reef, studied by an ecologist

Rich coral ecosystem in the lush Palmyra Atoll

Gray reef sharks patrol Kingman Reef

Masked boobie in Palmyra Atoll

“These places are completely different from what we know anywhere else. They’re totally dominated by their predators. Imagine the Serengeti with five lions per wildebeest. This is Kingman Reef,” said Enric Sala

The proposal is great, but can we be sure these pristine reefs won’t be “vandalized” by fishing or other similar activities. Let’s hope so because it’s too beautiful.

All photographs by Paul Chesley/NGS

  • rick

    Those are some big boobies.

  • Jess Woods

    Wow, what a beautiful place. I have never seen anything like it.


  • Douglas Barnes

    Holy %$#^! Bush has finally done something I can agree with!

  • Angelo Villagomez

    Just a slight correction. The Bush administration is interested in the waters surrounding the northernmost three islands in the Marianas, not all of them.

    The small island is Managaha. It is not pristine.

  • Alex


  • kirk

    Did you say Bush was behind this. I’m starting to like this Pres. Just when he is leaving he steps up. Lets hope it happens.

  • Rusty Scupper

    I was lucky enough to spend a few months on Palmyra atoll and Kingmans Reef when I was young. They are amazing places and need to be protected, however there’s no enforcement of any kind and I can tell you the place was pretty well combed clean by Japanese and Korean fishing trawlers at that time.

  • Wazzy

    I just watched the movie “Shark Water” and it just makes me happy to see that someone (even though it is George), doing something about what is happening to the marine life. If anyone hasn’t seen it you should. Though this part of the world probably has nothing to do with it. I’m just happy that some parts of the world can be saved.

  • Jeff

    That second picture is likely a plating montipora. Not a lobe coral.

  • Vanessa Warheit

    This post needs a few corrections. For one – neither Palmyra Atoll nor Kingman Reef are located in the Northern Marianas. They’re located in the Northern *Line* Islands, approximately 3,000 miles SE of the Marianas.

    Also, as Angelo Villagomez has pointed out, Managaha (which is located in the Marianas, off the coast of Saipan) is not pristine, although it is quite beautiful. It has been developed as a day-use tourist destination, despite protests by indigenous people for whom the island is a sacred site.

    Which brings up an important issue, namely: what say (if any) have the people of the CNMI (Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas) had in this monument designation? The people of these islands are second-class US citizens with no vote for the US president, no senators, and no vote in the House of Representatives. It would be nice if someone at least did them the courtesy of asking them their opinion on this matter.

  • Sassy_Wahine

    Verrrrrrrrrrry Beautiful Island!

  • Joey

    There happens to be a pretty good documentary on Palmyra Atoll called “Equator: Power of Currents.” It covers both Palmyra Atoll and Galapagos Islands. I highly recommend it for scuba enthusiasts as well as those interested in marine ecology.