The north-western Hawaiian Islands, a coral-fringed swath of the Pacific, came under US environmental protection, becoming the world's biggest protected marine reserve.
With a stroke of a pen, US President George W Bush gave immediate protection to an area that stretches across 2,250 kilometres, covering nearly 362,600 square kilometres, edging out in size Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
"We will protect a precious natural resource," Mr Bush said at a White House ceremony where he declared a string of Pacific islands and submerged volcanoes a national monument.
"We will show our respect for the cultural and historical importance of this area and we will create an important place for research and learning about how we can be good stewards of our oceans and our environment."
The monument designation, Mr Bush's first, means a marine area greater in size than 46 of the 50 US states will be sheltered from overfishing, while allowing Hawaiians to use the area for traditional purposes.
The protected area starts about 260 kilometres west of the inhabited Hawaiian island of Kauai and stretches nearly 1,900 kilometres from Nihoa Island in the east to Kure Atoll in the west.
The area includes the world's most remote and relatively undisturbed coral reef ecosystem and supports more than 7,000 species, including more than 100 species unique to those islands, the Pew Charitable Trusts' Environment Division says, praising the White House decision.
Important species include the green sea turtle and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal - the only surviving marine mammal wholly dependent on coral reefs.
GOI: Well, I am a big "W" critic (as you well know) but I am willing to give credit where credit is due. This is a wonderful, HUGE development and I honestly thank and praise Bush for doing this.
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