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August 2006 Vol. 32, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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from the August, 2006 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

President George W. Bush has designated a 140,000-square-mile stretch of coral islands, seamounts and shoals around the northern Hawaiian Islands as a protected national monument. The area holds the least-disturbed coral reefs under U.S. jurisdiction and thousands of marine species, including top-level predators. In 2000, President Bill Clinton designated part of the area as a reserve but allowed some commercial fishing.

In April, environmentalists arranged a dinner for President Bush at which he viewed Voyage to Kure, a film by Jean-Michel Cousteau about the need to protect the area. The Los Angeles Times reported Bush was excited after the screening and that he was amazed by photos of the northwest Hawaiian Islands. Afterward, the president had dinner with Cousteau, National Geographic explorer-in-residence Sylvia Earle, and other marine scientists and advocates. The Times said that “Bush was surprised, as are many Americans, that national marine sanctuaries do not forbid fishing except in specially designated areas.”

The president’s significant action in June expanded the area and ends bottom fishing in five years. Negotiations are under way to end all fishing. However, the act doesn’t provide funding for enforcement. Proponents are worried that shark poaching, for example, will increase, just as it has in other remote protected areas such as Bikini Atoll, where there are insufficient funds to enforce the law. In fact, the Coast Guard has been scaling back enforcement in the region for lack of money.

Elliott Norse, president of Marine Conservation, said, “This is the best thing that President Bush has done for the environment since he took office.” But he added that without adequate enforcement, the relatively pristine archipelago “will be like a supermarket with the doors open 24 hours a day and no personnel and no cameras.”

So, while the president’s act is valuable, this administration has constantly pared environment programs. Unless it reverses course and allocates money for enforcement in America’s Pacific, the president’s act will only ring hollow.

– From reports in the MPA News, the Los Angeles Times and other sources

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