Press Release

NRDC Applauds Executive Order Establishing Northwest Hawaiian Islands Reserve

Karen Garrison at 415-777-0220; Sarah Chasis at 212-727-4423; Elliott Negin at 202-289-2405

President’s Action Will Protect 70 Percent of Nation’s Coral Reefs

WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 4, 2000) - Calling it a "precedent-setting step forward for ocean protection," the NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) hailed the executive order announced today by President Clinton establishing the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve.

"The Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve is the first gem in the necklace of ocean wilderness areas that NRDC believes should ring the entire country in the future. Environmentalists regard such preservation or "no take" zones as an important tool to address threats to ocean biodiversity from overfishing and marine habitat destruction.," says Karen Garrison, NRDC senior policy analyst and co-director of NRDC’s Ocean Protection Initiative. "A recent National Research Council report, ‘Marine Protected Areas: Tools for Sustaining Ocean Ecosystems,’ and other studies show fully protected areas in the ocean sustain a richer diversity of life; harbor larger, more prolific fish; and increase the productivity of sea life within their borders compared to nearby fished areas. We know these safe havens help marine wildlife thrive."

The executive order creates a reserve of nearly 100,000 square nautical miles (84 million acres) in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the largest nature preserve ever established in the United States. It will protect the largest, most pristine coral reef ecosystem in the United States and thousands of animals. The remote and largely uninhabited chain of islands is home to more than 7,000 marine species, including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, the endangered leatherback and hawksbill sea turtles, and the threatened green sea turtle.

"We’ve set aside more than 200 million acres of wilderness and national parks to provide sanctuaries for wildlife and ourselves," says Sarah Chasis, senior attorney and director of NRDC’s Water and Coastal Program. "But until now we have largely neglected our oceans, even though most of our population lives near the sea. Less than a hundredth of a percent of our oceans currently are true wilderness areas. President Clinton’s executive order represents a giant step forward in ocean conservation and sets the standard for marine protection for future administrations."

The executive order specifically establishes restrictions on both commercial and recreational fishing by capping fishing effort at current levels and by designating approximately 5 percent of the reserve as a "preservation area" where it is illegal to fish or remove coral. Environmentalists regard such preservation or "no take" zones as an important tool to address threats to ocean biodiversity from overfishing and marine habitat destruction. There is one exception: In eight of the 15 preservation areas, groundfishing at current levels will be permitted. The executive order also bans oil and gas and mineral exploration and development, and the removal or harvesting of any living or non-living coral.

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