Marianas Trench Marine National Monument

On January 6, 2009, President George W. Bush established the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument under the authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906.  The monument incorporated approximately 95,216 square miles within the Mariana Archipelago, almost 1,100 miles long and 44 miles wide.

The Marianas Trench is the deepest part of the world’s oceans. It is located in the western Pacific Ocean, to the east of the Mariana Islands. The trench, in total, is about 1,580 miles long and has a mean width of 43 miles. It reaches a maximum-known depth of about 6.78 miles (35,798 feet) at the Challenger Deep.

This was one of the last actions of the Bush Administration, before they left office.  The massive marine reserve was announced with great fanfare and was their final-weeks bid for an environmental legacy.  Biologists and conservationists have long maintained that establishing marine reserves — areas where fishing is off-limits or severely restricted — offers the best hope for recovery for our overstressed oceans.  It was said the action was to protect the marine life around seven islands and atolls in the Pacific Remote Islands Monument.

But, basically it was a seizure of thousands of miles of seabeds in the Rose Atoll and the Marianas Trenches Archipelago.  Turns out it’s not a marine reserve after all. If you read the fine print of Bush’s executive order, you’ll find that the 95,000-square-mile Marianas Trench National Marine Monument protects the seafloor trench but not the six-mile-deep water column above it; which of course includes no protection what-so-ever for the marine life.

Creating a US National Monument from the Marianas Trench Archipelago to protect its seabeds in international waters from “destruction” is quite a stretch based on the terms of the Antiquities Act of June 8, 1906, Stat 225, 16 USC 431.

While Bush’s Executive Order may have been a little fuzzy about how much of the Marianas Trench Archipelago National Monument was actually US territory and how much was international water, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which went into force on Nov. 16, 1994 after being signed by Bill Clinton, allows member nations who had the power to do so to enforce, on behalf of the world’s largest environmental groups, exclusive marine zones. The seabed regulations created a bizarre regulatory regime that worked for Bush since what Bush was doing had nothing to do with protecting seabeds, but protecting what was under them.

In the seabeds around the Marianas Trench and Rose Atoll National Monuments, geologists have identified hard minerals like phosphate, abyssal manganese, ferromanganese, cobalt, sulfide, olivine, feldspar, clinopyroxene, opaline, silica and pyrite as well as hydrothermal deposits of gold and silver—and the world’s richest deposits of baryite (barite).

In addition, surprise, surprise, under those seabeds is the world’s largest oil and natural gas reserves.  At the bottom of the Marianas Trench, the deepest point in the ocean, lies the single largest oil find in the history of man. The oil has been claimstaked by Exxon-Mobil in a joint IPO with China Oil.  Preliminary estimates suggest the oil and natural gas reserves will dwarf the combined reserves found under the North Slope of Alaska and in the Arabian Peninsula—combined.

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