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Bush making Hawaiian archipelago world's largest marine sanctuary
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON – The world's largest protected marine area is being created around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, an archipelago 1,400 miles long and 100 miles wide that is home to rare marine mammals, fishes and birds.
President Bush is to announce on Thursday his decision to create the nation's newest national monument from the vast chain of largely uninhabited islands, atolls, coral reef colonies and seamounts.
Conrad C. Lautenbacher, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the new protected area in Hawaiian waters would dwarf all others.
"It's the single-largest act of ocean conservation in history. It's a large milestone," Lautenbacher said. "It is a place to maintain biodiversity and to maintain basically the nurseries of the Pacific. It spawns a lot of the life that permeates the middle of the Pacific Ocean."
The region hosts more than 7,000 species, at least a fourth of them found only there and including some on the government's endangered list, such as the Hawaiian monk seal and the nesting green sea turtle.
Bush decided to invoke the 1906 National Antiquities Act and create a national monument for the first time during his presidency, a senior administration official said Wednesday.
Earlier Wednesday, the president had planned to use instead the National Marine Sanctuary Act, a law that would allow challenges from Congress and others to the decision, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to upstage Bush.
"This means the area will get immediate protection rather than having to wait another year," the official said.
With the national monument designation, the federal government can immediately begin a five-year phaseout of the eight commercial fishing permits in the area and impose strict prohibitions on any other extractive uses.
Until now, Bush has not used the 100-year-old Antiquities Act, which gives the president authority to create national monuments to preserve the nation's ancient cultural sites and unusual geological features.
About 132,000 square miles of the area already is designated either a coral reef ecosystem reserve or a national wildlife refuge. By making it a national monument, the government will have greater power to protect it.
Expanding the existing reserve and refuge to a monument of 140,000 square miles will make it the largest no-take marine conservation area in the world, just ahead of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
Among the outermost points from 10 uninhabited islands, more than 100 atolls and 4,500 square miles of coral reef habitat is the Midway Atoll, which will retain an emergency landing strip for commercial and military trans-Pacific flights.
The monument will be given a native Hawaiian name, using suggestions from state residents, the administration official said.
NOAA will develop regulations for managing the monument. Last month, state and federal officials signed an agreement to manage the pristine islands jointly.
Administration officials say their intent is to preserve zoned access for native Hawaiian activities, educational and scientific expeditions. Recreational and tourist visits that are no more harmful than scuba diving or photography also will be allowed. Permits, however, will be required for all activities.
The private Pew Charitable Trusts, which has pushed for the sanctuary for eight years, is looking at providing some financial relief to people losing their fishing permits in the area. The trusts finance lawsuits by environmental groups that a few years ago succeeded in ended lobstering and the use of fishing gear harmful to turtles.
Joshua Reichert, who heads Pew's environment program, said the region contains almost 70 percent of the United States' tropical shallow water coral reefs.
"When you add it all up, it's a world-class ecological jewel," he said. "From both a national and global perspective, this really is a landmark conservation event."
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company