Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Proclaimed a National Monument
WASHINGTON, DC, June 15, 2006 (ENS) - Today, President George W. Bush signed a proclamation designating the waters of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a national monument. The status confers immediate and permanent protection upon 140,000 square miles federal waters surrounding 10 islands and atolls creating the largest single conservation area in the history of the United States, and the world's largest protected marine area.
"As a marine national monument, the waters of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands will receive our nation's highest form of marine environmental protection," President Bush said. "We will protect a precious natural resource. 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."
"We have a responsibility, a solemn responsibility, to be good stewards of the oceans and the creatures who inhabit them," the President said.
The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument is more than 100 times larger than Yosemite National Park, larger than 46 of the U.S. 50 states, and more than seven times larger than all the 13 national marine sanctuaries combined.
The archipelago is inhabited by more than 7,000 marine species, a quarter of which are found nowhere else on Earth. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are home to the 1,400 surviving Hawaiian monk seals, the entire population of this critically endangered species. These islands are the breeding ground for 90 percent of the threatened Hawaiian Island green sea turtle population. The waters are full of healthy corals and giant schools of fish. Enormous flocks of seabirds still breed and nest on these islands.
The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands will be the first national monument in Hawaii, and the first to be operated by the Department of Commerce under the jurisdiction of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
To date, the federal waters of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands have been protected as a Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve under two Executive Orders of President Bill Clinton written in 2000 and 2001. They established a process of public consultation and planning to designate the area as the nation's 14th national marine sanctuary under the NOAA National Sanctuary Program.
Five years of planning and more than 100 public meetings have taken place in Hawaii through the NOAA sanctuary process. Thousands of public comments have been submitted, the vast majority in favor of the most protected status possible for this unique place.
While the sanctuary process has been superceded by the monument designation today, the marine monument will still fall under the jurisdiction of NOAA.
The land areas, which collectively are protected as a national wildlife refuge, will continue to be governed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Mere dots of rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the wildlife refuge covers Nihoa, Necker, French Frigate Shoals, Gardner Pinnacles, Maro Reef, Laysan, Lisianski, and, Pearl and Hermes Reef. Except for a few research field stations, these remote islands are not inhabited by humans. Midway Atoll is a separate national wildlife refuge.
Midway, near the northern border of the new monument, is best known as the site of the battle that turned World War II in the Pacific in favor of the allied forces. It has streets, buildings and an air strip and will become the center for any visitors that are permitted to enter the new monument.
While Native Hawaiians will continue to have access to the monument for cultural activities, and research will be permitted, most other activities will be either prohibited or strictly controlled.
The state waters that extend three miles out from the shores of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands were designated as a marine reserve in September 2005. Governor Linda Lingle, a Republican, created the largest marine conservation area in the history of the state. No extractive uses, commercial or recreational fishing are allowed.
Since signing these rules, Governor Lingle and her administration have worked with the federal government to establish similar protections in federal waters. The governor, together with Jim Connaughton, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, ocean explorer Jean-Michel Cousteau and state and federal officials visited Midway Atoll last December.
Praise for the President's action came from all quarters today. Congressman Ed Case, a Hawaii Democrat whose district covers the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, wrote a bill last year that would have required the strictest possible protection for the region. He declared himself "overwhelmed and overjoyed" today because the President's action implements "virtually all" of his bill, said Case, who was at the White House for the proclamation ceremony.
"Anyone who knows the NWHI knows how truly unique and relatively intact, yet how vulnerable and endangered, it is," Case said. "And we have known as well what an incredible opportunity and obligation we have had to seek the maximum level of permanent protection so that this world can first survive and then truly blossom again, as it was before mankind arrived and as it can and should be for all time."
"For years, Senator Inouye and I have worked with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and community groups to ensure proper stewardship of this tremendous island chain," Akaka said. "It is my hope that the administration will continue these relationships to properly incorporate the cultural traditions that are of great importance to Native Hawaiians and careful traditions of fishermen."
"This is a great day for the preservation of our ocean and coral reef ecosystems. But I firmly believe all stakeholders must have input in the future of this precious resource. I will be vigilant in making sure that effective oversight over this National Monument is provided."
Access by Native Hawaiians will be encouraged, the President said today. "For more than a thousand years, native Hawaiians sailed these waters and visited these islands as part of sacred journeys. The islands are dotted with archeological treasures and traditional sites of worship. This monument will protect the cultural ties that native Hawaiians have to these lands and waters."
Bush said his administration will consult with native Hawaiian leaders to give this monument a native Hawaiian name.
Hawaiian environmental groups were pleased with the new monument designation, but many said vigilance will be needed as the management plan for the newly protected area is drafted.
Cha Smith, executive director of KAHEA, the Hawaiian Environmental Alliance, has lobbied continuously for the strongest possible protection for this area.
"As this process develops, we must be diligent to ensure that the federal waters of the NWHI are fully protected - where all extractive and commercial uses are prohibited, all research serves to preserve the resource, and all native Hawaiian cultural access rights are respected," Smith said today. "The public must continue to be involved at every stage of decision-making about this irreplaceable public trust resource."
"With the stroke of a pen, President Bush has created the largest no-take marine reserve in the world," Nelson said.
"This is largest protection area in the United States. It is an event unparalleled in history," said Stephanie Fried of Environmental Defense, who has worked tirelessly for years to achieve protection for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. "But we will still need to see the lanugage, the details," she said.
Cousteau's two hours of video for PBS, "Voyage to Kure," showed the glories of these waters and the threats they face from human pressure. Bush invited Cousteau to the White House for the ceremony today and said the film has influenced his decision to protect the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
About Cousteau, the President said, "He's made a really important movie that I hope people will watch about the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. I think the American people will understand better about why I made the decision I made when they see the movie that Jean-Michel has produced."
Cousteau said today that we should care about protecting this long chain of islands and atolls that reaches 1,200 miles from Honolulu into the vast northern Pacific Ocean because it is marvelous, and it is in danger.
"This near pristine environment, teaming with indigenous and endangered species and extraordinary habitats, is under siege from marine debris, ravenous commercial fishing interests and the effects of human irresponsibility," said Cousteau. "It is a fragile ecosystem that is as beautiful as a porcelain figurine and as easily broken.
"The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are as much a part of our natural treasury as Yosemite, the Great Smoky Mountains or the Grand Canyon," said Cousteau. "This archipelago holds enormous cultural significance for Polynesians and for the families whose relatives fought and died for our freedom on Midway Island in World War II in the center of its chain. It is America and it is a last wild place."