In January 2009, President George W. Bush established by proclamation the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, made up of three sections: the Volcanic and Trench units, plus the Islands Unit, which consists of 16,405 square miles of highly protected waters and submerged land in the western Pacific Ocean. The monument is located in the Mariana Archipelago, about 1,400 miles south of Japan.
The previous year, Pew’s Global Ocean Legacy project joined residents of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth, in working to safeguard the area. It became the second major marine monument designated in the United States after the initial 2006 establishment of Papahānaumokuākea in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
At more than 36,000 feet, the Marianas Trench is the deepest place on Earth—deep enough to contain Mount Everest below the surface, with more than a mile to spare.
This dark abyss hosts spectacular volcanic undersea vents, known as smokers, which support a wide variety of unique marine life, including some of the oldest organisms on the planet. The vents also produce boiling liquid sulfur, whose only other known existence is on the moons of Jupiter.
Given the trench’s depth and inaccessibility, most of the region’s wonders are yet to be discovered. The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project is working with the communities of the Northern Mariana Islands to improve protections for the area.