What is something that Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have in common? Both presidents dedicated massive amounts of acreage to form National Parks towards the ends of their tenures. Obama was even rewarded for his work with the naming of a new species of fish after him!

President Obama meeting Fish Obama. Image via National Geographic.
President Obama meeting Fish Obama. Image via National Geographic.

In January of 2009, Bush reflected on the legacy of another Republican President, Teddy Roosevelt. In a Rose Garden press conference, Bush quoted Teddy, saying “Of all the questions which can come before the nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.”

In a single day, Bush dedicated three massive National Monuments:

  • The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument: “At the heart of this protected area will be much of the Marianas Trench — the site of the deepest point on Earth — and the surrounding arc of undersea volcanoes and thermal vents. This unique geological region is more than five times longer than the Grand Canyon. It is deeper than Mount Everest is tall. It supports life in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. A fascinating array of species survive amid hydrogen-emitting volcanoes, hydrothermal vents that produce highly acidic and boiling water, and the only known location of liquid sulfur this side of Jupiter.”
  • The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument: “The monument will span seven areas to the far south and west of Hawaii. One is Wake Island — the site of a pivotal battle in World War II, and a key habitat for nesting seabirds and migratory shorebirds. The monument will also include unique trees and grasses and birds adapted to life at the Equator; the rare sea turtles and whales and Hawaiian monk seals that visit Johnston Atoll; and some of the most pristine and spectacular coral reefs in the world. These isolated specks of land and abundant marine ecosystems are almost completely undisturbed by mankind. And as part of the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument, they will be ideal laboratories for scientific research.”
  • The Rose Atoll Marine National Monument: “Rose is a diamond-shaped island to the east of American Samoa — our nation’s southernmost territory. It includes rare species of nesting petrels, shearwaters, and terns — which account for its native name, “Island of Seabirds.” The waters surrounding the atoll are the home of many rare species, including giant clams and reef sharks — as well as an unusual abundance of rose-colored corals. This area has long been renowned as a place of natural beauty. And now that it’s protected by law, it will also be a place of learning for generations to come.”
Bush signing three National Monuments into law. Image via Wikipedia.
Bush signing three National Monuments into law. Image via Wikipedia.

Bush touted his overall environmental record towards the end of the press conference, saying that even though it was “contrary to the conventional wisdom of many in the news media,” his record is something to be proud of.

“Since 2001, air pollution has dropped by 12 percent. The strictest air quality standards in American history are now in place, as are strong regulations on power plant and diesel engine emissions. More than 3.6 million acres of wetlands have been protected, restored, or improved. Millions of acres of vital natural habitat have been conserved on farms. More than 27 million acres of federal forest land have been protected from catastrophic wildfires. The maintenance backlog in our national parks has been reduced. More than 11,000 abandoned industrial brownfields are on their way back to productive use. We’ve had a new focus on cleaning debris from our oceans. Popular recreational fish like the striped bass and red drum are gaining new protection. And new marine protected areas are helping improve the health of our fisheries off the southeast coast.”

These three monuments surpassed the previous record set by Bush, totalling about 195,000 square miles.

This past August, Obama made his own mark on ocean conservation by quadrupling the size of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument that Bush created in 2006, making it the largest protected marine area in the entire world. It is now approximately four times the size of California!

Scientists recently discovered a small species of fish that lives solely within the boundaries of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, and decided to name it after Obama. Its official name won’t be released for a few more months, but this is pretty awesome. The decision to name it after Obama was made easier because males have “a circular red spot ringed with blue” that reminded scientists of Obama’s famous campaign logo.

A fish named Obama! Image via National Geographic.
A fish named Obama! Image via National Geographic.

People around the world have these two presidents to thank for dedicating massive areas to research and conservation. Maybe their successors will be lucky enough to have a fish named after them as well. I know I would love to receive that honor!

For more profiles in nature, from a deadly octopus to a $300,000 fish to a truly living “living fossil,” read here!