for National Geographic News
A scattered chain of Hawaiian islands today became the largest marine sanctuary in the world.
Surpassing Australia's Great Barrier Reef, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) will form part of a 140,000-square-mile (362,580-square-kilometer) protected area nearly the size of California.
The announcement was made today by U.S. President George W. Bush, who has designated the wildlife-rich islands and surrounding seas a national monument.
The move follows a long campaign by Hawaiians and conservation groups for federal protection of the NWHI, a 1,200-mile-long (1,930-kilometer-long) chain of islands, atolls, and coral reefs.
The region is home to more than 7,000 marine species, about a quarter of which are found nowhere else on Earth.
The islands are also a breeding site for millions of seabirds and endangered animals, including the Hawaiian monk sealone of the world's rarest marine mammalsand the Hawaiian green sea turtle.
(See a National Geographic magazine feature on the wildlife of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.)
National monument status gives the archipelago and its wildlife immediate protection and provides more protection than the national marine sanctuary designation many had expected.
The move will further restrict access to the remote region, and commercial and sportfishing will be phased out over five years.
Marine Refuge "Landmark"
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