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. Most are managed by the Interior Department's National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service, but the Agriculture Department's Forest Service operates a few.
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)....
Praise for the President's action came from all quarters today. Congressman Ed Case, a Hawaii Democrat whose district covers the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, wrote a bill last year that would have required the strictest possible protection for the region. He declared himself "overwhelmed and overjoyed" today because the President's action implements "virtually all" of his bill, said Case, who was at the White House for the proclamation ceremony.
Good news for a change, and credit where credit is due. If you're ever on a game show and the host asks you where geologists have absolutely, positively determined that there are no fossil fuel reserves, this would be your best guess.