Huge Ocean Victory, Cold Corals, Big Party, a literate Congress and what? Talking dolphins?
July 12 th, 2006
By David Helvarg
Bush’s Blue Asterisk
A strong case can be made that the Bush administration has had the worst environmental record of any presidency. But just as Barry Bond’s homerun record will always come with an asterisk relating tohis alleged steroid use, any recounting of the Bush Administration’s environmental stances will now have to come with an asterisk noting the establishment of America’s first great and fully-protected wilderness park in the sea, the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Monument.
I had the luck and privilege of being in Honolulu on the day the president announced that some 140,000 square miles of small islands and vast atolls and coral reefs will remain forever wild. I was speaking about my book –’50 ways to save the
Ocean'(number 37 ‘Work to Create Wilderness Parks under the Sea’) at the invitation of KAHEA an alliance of Native Hawaiian and environmental activists. KAHEA is also one of the key seaweed citizens’ groups that helped win protection for this unique marine ecosystem that stretches 1,200 miles northwest from the main islands. They had turned out hundreds of people at public hearings over the last five years helping inspire Hawaii’s Republican Governor and state Congressional delegation to join their call for full protection of the area. That in turn made it easier for the President to take positive action.
The Northwest Hawaiian reef system was first given transitional protection as an –‘ecosystem reserve’ under President Bill Clinton back in 2000 after he was informed that if he did so he would have protected more wilderness area than Teddy Roosevelt.
Still there has been fierce opposition to final protection from the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council, one of eight regional advisory groups that, because they’re the only federal regulatory bodies exempted from conflict of Interest laws, are also dominated by the commercial and recreational fishing industries they’re supposed to manage.
Because there’s been so little extractive pressure in the remote islands area to date (only 8 commercial boats had permits to make the long fuel-costly journey) it retains many of the pristine characteristics of the ocean before human impacts. One of these is that, like Denali or Yellowstone national parks on land, it’s a predator-dominated ecosystem with 50 percent of its biomass made up of big carnivorous critters like sharks, jacks and groupers. In the populated part of the Hawaiian chain that figure has been reduced to under five percent
One of the other great things about Northwest Hawaii is that its reef system is at the low end of temperature tolerances for tropical corals. That means it has a far better chance of surviving coral bleaching linked to fossil-fuel driven climate disruption than many other reef systems such as the Florida Keys. This cooler waters advantage was not mentioned by the President in announcing the new Monument. What the President and others did discuss was the problem of marine debris, particularly plastic waste that drifts into the area on Pacific currents. The President’s interest in this and other marine topics was piqued in April when he attended a White House screening of a PBS documentary on Northwest Hawaii produced by Jean-Michael Cousteau. The screening was arranged by White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair (and diving enthusiast) Jim Connaughton in collaboration with the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. It was attended by a number of Marine Conservationists including Sylvia Earle. Sylvia was science director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under the President’s father and spent much of the evening briefing the son on the state of the reef. Perhaps she assured him that while the rare Hawaiian monk seals that thrive in Northwest Hawaii are endangered, they are not religiously persecuted. In any case the President, who is known not to be much of a reader, was clearly inspired to action by the Cousteau documentary and subsequent discussion. After cleaning up the marine debris that has accumulated in the new monument the main threat to our vast new (and relatively cool) wilderness range will probably come from human-enhanced climate change. It’s too bad the president has said he won’t watch Al Gore’s movie.
Alaskan Corals also Rock
OK, they’re not rocks, they’re little polypy animals. The point is 370,000 square miles of Alaska’s cold-water coral gardens will also be protected under a new federal rule setting these areas off-limits to bottom trawl fishing that could topple and decimate deep-sea coral communities in a single sweep and haul. NOAA established the protections in response to a six-year-old lawsuit filed by Oceana and other marine conservation groups. Along with thickets of red tree corals the closed areas will also protect hard bottom habitat for rockfish, who of course also rock.
’50 Ways’ to Influence Congress
Blue Frontier Campaign has sent a copy of ’50 Ways to Save the Ocean’ to every member of Congress in both the House and Senate. On the House side the books were accompanied by a –‘Dear Colleague’ letter signed by all six co-chairs of the House Oceans Caucus (three republicans and three democrats). It read in part: “The Blue Frontier Campaign is giving a copy of their book to every member of Congress knowing that each of us can turn the tide for the sake of our nation’s oceans…The House Oceans Caucus is at the forefront of legislative initiatives to strengthen U.S. ocean policy, and agrees with the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy that the ecological unraveling of our public waters represents a real threat to our national security, economy, and environment –‘
a threat we have to respond to now!”
Special thanks to Blue Frontier’s Mara Hendrix who literally –‘walked the halls of Congress’ to help get the books distributed. Thanks also to the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, the Ocean Foundation and the Munson Foundation for providing us the support needed to purchase these books. Now all we have to do is make sure every politician hears from their constituents that they need to –‘respond now!’
REEF Party Got Down
Thanks also to Ocean Caucus Co-Chair and Ocean Champion Sam Farr (d. CA) for joining us at our June 8 –‘Ocean Day’ Book Party at the REEF in Adams Morgan (D.C.). He had to leave early but expressed his commitment to building the seaweed revolution to the first 25 of some 150 celebrants who enjoyed the festivities and also got to hear from me, Jim Toomey, Philippe Cousteau and REEF Owner and fish keeper extraordinaire Brian Harrison who hosted the event. Celebrants included activists and educators who’d been attending a range of Ocean Day activities including the annual Marine Fish Conservation Network meeting and lobbying effort to improve U.S. fishing policy. Politics & Prose bookstore was also there selling copies of –’50 Ways to Save the Ocean’ and –‘Blue Frontier- Dispatches from America’s Ocean Wilderness.’
The next day I continued the ’50 Ways’ book tour traveling to Hawaii, Seattle and Alaska where the campaign partnered up with publisher –‘Inner Ocean’ the Maui Ocean Center, Kahea, People for Puget Sound, Elliot Bay Bookstore, Title Wave Books and others. I returned with an injured foot from where I stepped on a sea urchin and a bruised heel from hiking on the tundra. Sympathy notes kindly accepted.
Dude You’re Awesome
San Diego Union-Tribune Columnist and famed book author Rich Louv wrote a great piece titled, “Growing the Seaweed Revolution,” in the June 8th issue of the newspaper.
You say your name’s Flipper and you’re owed royalties?
A recent report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that bottlenosed dolphins off Florida have unique whistle-based names by which they identify themselves and others as individuals (rather than just by the sound of each others voices). “I think it’s a very exciting discovery because it means these animals have evolved the same abilities as humans,” noted one of the British scientists who authored the
study. Reporting on the findings Newsweek magazine wondered why the dolphins would be so “self-centered.” Responded Dr. Paris Hilton, “As if!”
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