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Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Marine Sanctuary


Guest Newt Gingrich
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Guest Newt Gingrich

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich in a letter to President Bush called attention to "a marvelous opportunity to leave a historic mark on and world conservation history." In the letter sent earlier this year, Gingrich urged the President to provide permanent protection to the remote chain of uninhabited islands, atolls, submerged banks and surrounding waters known as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). The proposed protected area stretches from the main Hawaiian Islands to Midway Atoll. Gingrich notes that it is specifically within the President's power to designate this area as a fully-protected coral reef ecosystem. It would be the largest such protected area in the world.

 

"It is my hope that the President will use his executive power to protect the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Marine Sanctuary," said Gingrich. "In doing so, he would create the marine equivalent of Yellowstone National Park ."

 

Gingrich explained that the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands have many important features worthy of permanent conservation. Among its unique qualities, the archipelago: Among them, he pointed out that the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands accounts for 10 percent of the coral reefs under U.S. jurisdiction; constitutes the most remote large-scale coral reef ecosystem on the planet, which is less impacted by pollution and use than are reefs closer to human populations; supports a tremendous number of coral reef species that are found only in the NWHI or in the larger Hawaiian Archipelago; harbors the highest proportion of un-described reef species (algae, corals, sponges, other invertebrates) of any reefs on the planet; comprises the largest seabird rookery in the United States, with about 6 million seabirds from more than 20 species breeding here; and provides critical habitat for several globally endangered or threatened seabird species, such as albatrosses.

 

"The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands have been the subject of presidential interest since Theodore Roosevelt established some of the islands as a bird sanctuary in 1909," said Gingrich in his letter. "Over the years, four other presidents--Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan and William Clinton-- have recognized the superlative conservation values of the area and provided increased protection to its resources."

 

Gingrich praised Governor Linda Lingle who earlier this year responded to overwhelming public enthusiasm and designated all state waters in the Northwestern Island chain as a fully- protected state marine refuge. But Gingrich went on to say that in order to preserve one of the few remaining places on earth to learn about a coral reef ecosystem in its near-natural condition, we must offer federal protection.

 

Text of Letter to the President

 

White House

 

Washington, DC

 

Dear Mr. President:

 

I write to call your attention to a marvelous opportunity to leave a historic mark on and world conservation history by providing permanent protection to the remote chain of uninhabited islands, atolls, submerged banks and surrounding waters known as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which stretch from the main Hawaiian Islands to Midway Atoll. Specifically, it is within your power to designate this area as the largest fully-protected coral reef ecosystem in the world. By such action, a Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Marine Sanctuary would be the marine equivalent of Yellowstone National Park .

 

The archipelago has a number of unique qualities that make it worthy of permanent conservation. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands :

 

-- account for 10 percent of the coral reefs out to 100 fathoms under jurisdiction;

 

-- are the most remote large-scale coral reef ecosystem on the planet, and are less impacted by pollution and use than are reefs closer to human populations;

 

-- are the least-impacted large marine ecosystem in waters, from which we can learn how coral reef ecosystems operate in a natural state;

 

-- are a predator-dominated ecosystem, unlike all other large- scale coral reef ecosystems in which predator fish have been heavily depleted;

 

-- support the highest degree of endemic coral reef species, meaning species that are found only in the NWHI or in the Hawaiian Archipelago (about 25 percent of all shallow water coral reef species in the NWHI are endemic);

 

-- harbor the highest proportion of un-described reef species (algae, corals, sponges, other invertebrates) of any reefs on the planet;

 

-- are home to the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, the only surviving marine mammal that is wholly dependent on coral reefs, and whose complete habitat is within waters (estimated population of 1300);

 

-- comprise the largest seabird rookery in the United States, with about 6 million seabirds from more than 20 species breeding here, and provide critical habitat for several globally endangered or threatened seabird species, such as albatrosses;

 

-- are the nesting grounds for more than 90 percent of green sea turtles in the Hawaiian Archipelago; and

 

-- are culturally important to Native Hawaiians.

 

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands have been the subject of presidential interest since Theodore Roosevelt established some of the islands as a bird sanctuary in 1909. Over the years, four other presidents--Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan and William Clinton--have recognized the superlative conservation values of the area and provided increased protection to its resources. In 2000, the 84-million acre area was designated as a Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve by executive order At that time, Congress concurrently directed that a federal marine sanctuary designation be considered for the reserve area.

 

This year, Governor Linda Lingle responded to overwhelming public comments and designated all state waters in the Northwestern Island chain as a fully-protected state refuge. She has called on the federal government to follow suit, and apply comparable protection to federal waters within the proposed sanctuary. In early December, the Governor highlighted her position by visiting Midway with James Connaughton and other federal officials.

 

Your administration, under the leadership of the Secretary of Commerce, is now completing a sanctuary designation process. The stated purpose of the proposed sanctuary is "long-term protection of the marine ecosystems in their natural character." An enormous amount of public consultation has occurred, and a draft environmental impact statement is due to be issued by the Secretary in 2006. Expressed public sentiment favors full protection of the area.

 

At issue is whether or not the sanctuary will be one that is fully protected from all extractive activities, such as commercial fishing, seabed mining, coral removal, and the like. The National Marine Sanctuaries System Act permits you to establish marine sanctuaries with varying degrees of protection, including full protection. Unlike the locations of existing marine sanctuaries, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are highly isolated, and have no inhabitants except wildlife and a few researchers. Designation of a fully protected sanctuary is achievable because no one lives in these remote islands. A small, economically marginal and shrinking fishery for bottomfish does take place in the area. However, the Department of Commerce recently announced that these species are experiencing overfishing. Thus, conditions are ripe to buy-out the nine fishing boats for fair and just compensation, an action called for by Governor Lingle.

 

I cannot think of a better conservation opportunity for you than to complete the conservation work begun by Theodore Roosevelt. A decision to fully-protect the islands would be the highest and best use for the area, and would be widely acclaimed by Hawaiians and conservationists worldwide. Whether one is concerned about ecological integrity, coral reefs, seabirds, sea turtles, sharks, or reef fish, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands offers one of the few remaining places on earth to learn more about a coral reef ecosystem in its near-natural condition. As Peter Young, Director of Hawaii's Department of Land and Natural Resources said after his recent visit to the NWHI, "If there were ever a place on earth you wanted to see remain unchanged forever, this is it... The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands deserve the strongest protections and should be the place on earth where we don't take something."

 

Sincerely,

 

Newt Gingrich

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  • 4 weeks later...

Jim Connaughton, Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), discussed the President's designation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument on Tuesday. Here is the transcript.

 

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Jim Connaughton

Good afternoon everybody. As a scuba diver, coral and marine life enthusiast, and a sometime economic and military history buff, today's topic is a particular personal pleasure to discuss! Last week, President Bush signed a proclamation to establish the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument. This action represents the largest single act of conservation in our nation’s history and creates the largest protected marine area in the world. I am pleased to answer your questions today on this historic event.

 

 

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Ashley, from Boulder, CO writes:

I just want to thank the administration for taking this giant step toward protecting our water and our ecosystems. Water is our most precious resource, far more so than gold, and my heart is singing today. Thank you to President Bush and everyone else who participated in this historic moment. Only good things can come from this and hopefully it will set a precedent for further protection and conservation measures.

 

Jim Connaughton

Thank you Ashley for striking such a strong personal chord in your question. You should know that, for those assembled with the President and First Lady in the East Room of the White House in support of the proclamation, the moment was also quite emotional. The proclamation was the culmination of a very long consensus process involving state, local and federal officials, native Hawaiians, interest groups of all types, and national and global ocean conservation leaders. Famed ocean explorers Jean-Michel Cousteau (son of Jacques) and Sylvia Earle added to the weight of the moment with their inspiration and dedication to making the public aware of this treasured natural, cultural and historic resource, but also the broader need to take action to protect and wisely manage our ocean resources.

 

 

 

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Daniel, from Washington, D.C. writes:

How many acres is the new monument? How does it compare in size to the other National Monuments? Thanks for protecting the environment.

 

Jim Connaughton

The new Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument is approximately 140,000 square miles. That's about 90 million acres! It is larger than 46 of our 50 states and is more than a 100 times bigger than Yosemite National Park. It is about 7 times as big as all of the other national marine sanctuaries put together. If it were on land, it is as long as the drive from Chicago, Illinois to Miami, Florida and as wide as the drive from Washington, D.C. to the Atlantic coast.

 

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Michael, from Powell, TN writes:

How is a National Monument made?

 

Jim Connaughton

Michael, one of the first conservation laws passed in 1906, the Antiquities Act, gives the President authority to declare a national monument through a public proclamation. This is done in very special circumstances. Renowned conservationist President Teddy Roosevelt was the first to use the law. President Bush was pleased to use this authority just following the Act's 100th anniversary earlier this month.

 

 

 

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Cayla, from California writes:

I was wondering why the president has waited so long to preserve this area. I heard that his interest in the area was sparked by a documentary by PBS at a private showing in the White House quite a while ago.

 

Jim Connaughton

Actually, Cayla, we got going on the process way back in 2001. In, fact it is one of the first projects I helped initiate after the President appointed me. We then spent the better of part of five years in a massive public outreach to build consensus on the levels of protection and ideas for appropriate management of this vast resource. Public involvement to date included more than 100 meetings and working group sessions that were open to the public, including 22 formal public hearings in Hawaii and in Washington, D.C., generating over 52,000 public comments. The vast majority of these comments called for strong and lasting protection for the region.

 

In December 2004, the President's Ocean Action Plan publicy called for protection of this area. After that, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle established full protection for the portion of the waters and land controlled by the state.

 

Then just, last April the President and Mrs. Bush were pleased to host Governor Lingle and others in the marine exploration and conservation community for a showing of Jean Michel Cousteau's film in the movie theater at the White House. You are correct that the President and First Lady were particularly moved by the movie and by a lengthy and earnest conversation with Cousteau and Dr. Sylvia Earle, a well-known marine biologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence.

 

This event reinforced the President's resolve not just to take action but to complete the process rapidly. He felt that the five years of public process and the broad agreement achieved provided the necessary foundation for taking the step of invoking his Presidential authority under the Antiquities Act, so we could move forward immediately with protection and design of an effective management plan. The strong bi-partisan support of the Governor (a Republican) and the Hawaii congressional delegation (Democrats) was very important as well.

 

President Bush felt very strongly about conserving this important natural treasure and recognized that others did as well. That is why he created this new National Monument.

 

 

 

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Sasha, from Port Angeles writes:

Which federal Agency will manage the Marine Monument?

 

Jim Connaughton

The monument will be jointly managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the Department of Commerce and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)in the Department of the Interior, working closely with the State of Hawaii in what we call "seamless management." After all, the wildlife and ecosystems in this area do not know the difference between these agencies and their legal jurisdictions. The President charged the ocean and marine life experts at NOAA to oversee the new marine areas and the biologists at the Fish and Wildlife Service to apply their skills to the wildlife refuge areas.

 

 

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David, from Washington, DC writes:

First of all, congradulations on the creation of the new Marine National Monument. When does the Administration anticipate having the management plan and necesarry regulations finalized?

 

Jim Connaughton

A very critical question David. The Proclamation enables us to go forward more rapidly to complete the work underway on the management plan for the resource, which we will complete within in 18 months. Any needed regulations will be issued as soon as possible. But a lot will happen before then. For example, within 30 days, NOAA should approve a list of "vessel monitoring systems" for boats that intend to enter the monument. In fact, as soon as I conclude this session of Ask the White House, we will be meeting with the agencies to discuss these and many other implementation needs.

 

 

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Gregory, from Torrance, CA writes:

Chairman Connaughton, my question for you is how will we be able to protect the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine Monument from people who might try to poach the wildlife there? Is that the forest service's responsibility and will they be able to handle it? Thank you.

 

Jim Connaughton

Enforcement responsibilities for poaching or for any other attempted removal or destruction of the resources within the monument are the responsibility of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Both of those agencies have law enforcement personnel, and they will be assisted by the U.S. Coast Guard.

 

 

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Jeff, from Ely, Nevada writes:

How much will building this new monument cost?

 

Jim Connaughton

In this instance Jeff, Mother Nature built this spectacular and thriving natural environment that we now call the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Mounment. The cost, of course is priceless.

 

Our job is to protect it, learn from it, and look to it as a source of inspiration for stewardship of the marine resources on which we all depend for food, for transportation, for recreation, for science, and for education. We must use and enjoy these wisely too!

 

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Jim Connaughton

Well, this concludes our online session, but the online experience does not have to stop with me. Check out the info prepared by NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program at www.hawaiireef.noaa.gov.

 

Additional information about the wildlife refuges and Midway Island can be at the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service website. And the State of Hawaii also hosts information about the islands.

 

Cousteau's "The Voyage to Kure" on PBS and the National Geographic Society's magazine piece and photo book are also a must to truly appreciate this resource.

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