Bush proclaims Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a National Monument

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Friday, June 16, 2006

File:Nwhi - French Frigate Shoals reef - many fish.jpg
Pennantfish, Pyramid and Milletseed Butterflyfish at Rapture Reef on French Frigate Shoals of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

U.S. President George W. Bush yesterday signed an executive order declaring the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a U.S. National Monument, creating the largest protected marine area in the world and the largest single conservation area in the history of the United States.

In a signing ceremony attended by Hawaii officials, including Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle, Bush pledged, "This region holds the largest and healthiest untouched coral reef system in the United States. And we're going to preserve it."

Bush reportedly moved quickly to protect the archipelago after a screening of Jean-Michel Cousteau's documentary Voyage to Kure in April. He invoked powers under the Antiquities Act of 1906, which gives the President the power to restrict the use of public land by executive order. The area was under consideration as a National Marine Sanctuary, but Bush's invocation of the Antiquities Act bypasses the yearlong consultation that would be necessary.

All the Northwestern islands are uninhabited, except Midway Island

As a National Monument, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands would be subject to one of the highest levels of protection in the U.S. All fishing will be phased out over five years, and visitors will require permits for snorkeling and diving. Lingle had enacted similar protections as Hawaii governor, but the protections were limited to a three-mile radius from shore.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would manage the monument along with its 13 national marine sanctuaries.

Advocates for the fishing industry have raised concerns about the feasibility of further protections, asserting that a small fishery operation in the area would cause little environmental impact. Kitty Simonds of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council said, "The President can do whatever he wants to do, but we're disappointed that we can't continue on a small, healthy bottomfish fishery."

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Environmental groups generally lauded Bush's move.

"When you add it all up, it's a world-class ecological jewel. From both a national and global perspective, this really is a landmark conservation event," said Joshua Reichert, head of the environment program for the private Pew Charitable Trusts.

The preserve, covering all the islands northwest of Niihau, covers 140,000 square miles (360,000 km²), covering 10 islands and atolls, and stretches for about 1,400 miles (2,200 km).

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