President Bush plans to protect three Pacific island chains

WASHINGTON, D.C. (KHNL) - President Bush has announced a plan that would protect three Pacific island chains.

The proposal would conserve parts of the Northern Mariana Islands near Australia, the Line Islands in the central Pacific Ocean and American Samoa.

The islands would be off limits to commercial fishing and energy development.

Two years ago, the president made a huge swath of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a national monument, barring fishing, oil and gas extraction and tourism from its water and coral reefs.  The area is the single largest conservation area on the planet.

It is unclear whether Bush will designate these new areas as monuments, or use another mechanism that would allow limited fishing and other activities.

"We have every expectation that the president will move forward protecting these places sometime in the fall," said Diane Regas, the ocean program director at the Environmental Defense Fund.  "Today we put the champagne on ice and we pop it open."

The move would rank as one of the largest marine conservation efforts in history.