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.
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 1906 Antiquities Act gives the President the power to designate monuments without consulting Congress. There are now dozens of monuments. 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).
"Within the boundaries of the monument, we will prohibit unauthorized passage of ships," said Bush, "we will prohibit unauthorized recreational or commercial activity; we will prohibit any resource extraction or dumping of waste, and over a five-year period, we will phase out commercial fishing, as well. For seabirds and sea life, this unique region will be a sanctuary for them to grow and to thrive."
Jean-Michel 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.
"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.”