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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 26, 2000

May 26, 2000



SUBJECT:       Protection of U.S. Coral Reefs in the
               Northwest Hawaiian Islands

The world's coral reefs -- our tropical rain forests of the water -- are in serious decline. These important and sensitive areas of biodiversity warrant special protection. While the United States has only 3 percent of the world's coral reefs, nearly 70 percent of U.S. coral reefs are in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. Many of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands' coral, fish, and invertebrate species are unique, and the area is home to endangered Hawaiian monk seals and threatened turtles. In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt set aside certain islands and reefs in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands for the protection of sea birds. Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages this area as the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

In June 1998, I signed an Executive Order for Coral Reef Protection (E.O. 13089), which established the Coral Reef Task Force and directed all Federal agencies with coral reef-related responsibilities to develop a strategy for coral reef protection. States and territories with coral reefs were invited to be full partners with the Federal Government in preparing an action plan to better protect and preserve the Nation's coral reef ecosystems. In March of this year, the Task Force issued the National Action Plan to Conserve Coral Reefs. The Plan lays out a science-based road map to healthy coral reefs for future generations, based on two fundamental strategies: promoting understanding of coral reef ecosystems by, for example, conducting comprehensive mapping, assessment, and monitoring of coral reefs; and reducing the adverse impacts of human activities by, for example, creating an expanded and strengthened network of Federal, State, and territorial coral reef Marine Protected Areas, reducing the adverse impact of extractive uses, and reducing habitat destruction.

It is time now to take the Coral Reef Task Force's recommendations and implement them to ensure the comprehensive protection of the coral reef ecosystem of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands through a coordinated effort among the Departments of the Interior and Commerce and the State of Hawaii.

Accordingly, I have determined that it is in the best interest of our Nation, and of future generations, to provide strong and lasting protection for the coral reef ecosystem of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, and I am directing you to initiate an administrative process to that end. Specifically, I direct you, working cooperatively with the State of Hawaii and consulting with the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council, to develop recommendations within 90 days for a new, coordinated management regime to increase protection of the ecosystem and provide for sustainable use. Further, I direct that your recommendations address whether appropriate stewardship for the submerged lands and waters of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands warrants exercise of my authority to extend permanent protection to objects of historic or scientific interest or to protect the natural and cultural resources of this important area.

The recommendations should also:

I also direct that during the 90-day period, the Departments shall conduct "visioning" sessions, which would provide opportunities for public hearing and comment to help shape the final recommendations.

With this new effort, we are taking strides to fulfill the goal of the Coral Reef Task Force to protect our precious coral reefs for the benefit of future generations.


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