THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
Immediate Release December 4, 2000
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON NORTHWESTERN HAWAIIAN ISLANDS CORAL REEF RESERVE
National Geographic Museum
10:20 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, President Fahey, for making us feel so
welcome at National Geographic; Secretary Mineta, Under Secretary Baker; to
all the members of the Coral Reef Task Force and the Ocean Exploration
Panel; I welcome you.
I want to say a special word of appreciation to Peter Benchley, for
the work that he has done for nearly a lifetime now and for the remarks he
made. And I thank our two native Hawaiians who are here, Tammy Leilani
Harp, who spoke before me, and our Hawaiian elder -- who's affectionately
known as Uncle Buzzy -- thank you very much for being here.
I want to thank the National Geographic for giving us a place to make
this announcement and for all the years of helping people to understand the
universe and this small planet. We are fortunate to live in an age of
unprecedented discovery -- most of it in the biological sciences. It seems
that almost every day there is another unlocking of a secret of subatomic
particles or the complexities of the human genome.
But we're also discovering more and more evidence every day that our
human activity is profoundly affecting and, in some cases, overwhelming,
the natural systems that surround and sustain us on our planet.
For eight years now we have worked to act on this understanding to
better protect our natural resources for future generations. We have
created and expanded national parks, established 11 national monuments,
saved the California redwoods, protected the Yellowstone National Park from
gold mining. We're restoring the Florida Everglades and preserving vistas
of the Grand Canyon. And we are setting aside over 40 million roadless
acres in our national forests. All together, this amounts to more land
protection in the 48 continental states than any administration since that
of Teddy Roosevelt a century ago.
But we must recognize that, just as land is an important part of our
legacy in the preservation of our ecosystem, so, too, is our water. We
launched a nationwide effort to clean up polluted rivers, lakes and
streams. We created new marine sanctuaries, in Michigan, Massachusetts,
Florida, Washington and Hawaii.
We also organized the first National Oceans Conference, to develop a
strategy to protect the seas. Today, the Department of Commerce -- and,
Secretary Mineta, I thank you for your leadership on this -- is releasing a
comprehensive report, "Discovering Earth's Final Frontier." It charts a
bold course for U.S. ocean exploration in the 21st century. And I want to
thank Secretary Mineta, Dr. Marsha McNutt and the other members of the
ocean exploration panel for their work.
We have a lot of work to do. Many, many important ecosystems are
disappearing just as we begin to grasp their unique significance; their
role in regulating our climate, their potential for producing lifesaving
medicines. A lot of people are most familiar with the destruction of the
rainforests and worldwide efforts to save them.
Today, I want to focus on what we're doing with the people of Hawaii
to save the rainforests of the sea, our coral reefs. These remarkable
living structures, built cell by cell, over millions of years, are at once
irreplaceable and valuable. Coral reefs are beautiful; but more than that,
they're home to thousands of species of fish and wildlife found nowhere
else on Earth. Worldwide reefs generate millions of dollars through
fishing and tourism, putting food on our tables and sustaining coastal
communities. Coral reefs also protect these same communities from the
pounding waves of fierce storms. And like the rain forests, they're
providing us new hope for medical breakthroughs.
Unfortunately, the world's reefs are in peril. Pollution, damage from
dynamite fishing, coral poachers, unwise coastal development, and global
warming already have killed over 25 percent of the world's reefs. In some
areas, such as the Central Indian Ocean, 90 percent of the coral reefs have
died, bleached as white as dead bone.
Now, this is not an isolated problem. Scientists at last month's
International Coral Reef Symposium presented strong evidence that unless we
take action now, half the world's coral reefs will disappear within 25
years. Recently, scientists have shown a strong correlation between global
warming and the rising ocean temperatures that contribute to reef
Recognizing the urgency of this challenge, we remain committed to
reaching an international agreement to implement the Kyoto Protocol and to
cut the production of greenhouse gases. And despite the recent delays, I
still believe that we will get a good agreement. The stakes are too high
to let this imperative slip away.
We have reached the crossroads in the development of our natural
world. How many times in our lives, each of us, have we dismissed
something that went wrong, or that we did wrong, with the phrase, "it's
just a drop in the ocean"? Now we have solid proof that millions, even
billions of these drops in the ocean are having a profound, lasting and
destructive impact on the oceans and the world around us. So we act now,
to hopefully save our seas and our reefs, so that we do not lose their
beauty, their bounty and their protective qualities forever.
What can we do to turn the tide? What steps can we take? Well, at my
direction, the Secretaries of Commerce and Interior have been working
closely with the scientific, environmental, fishing and native communities
in Hawaii, to determine what can be done to save the vast majority of our
remaining coral reefs. At the same time, they solicited public comment,
and received over a thousand comments from concerned citizens.
Ultimately, this unprecedented coalition has recommended a bold and
visionary initiative. Today, I am proud to protect America's greatest
unspoiled reefs by creating the single largest nature preserve ever
established in the United States, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral
Reef Reserve. (Applause.) Thank you.
This pristine, largely uninhabited archipelago, covers more area than
Florida and Georgia combined. Integrated into our National Marine
Sanctuary Program, the new reserve will encompass nearly 70 percent of our
nation's coral reefs. This area is a special place where the sea is a
living rainbow. The only voices, those of half the world's last remaining
monk seals and the cry of sea birds wheeling in the sky.
In creating this unique preserve, we're establishing the strongest
level of protection for oceans ever enacted, and setting a new global
standard for reef and marine wildlife protection. Together, we will
safeguard the most sensitive areas, permit sustainable fishing and
eco-tourism and others, and enable native Hawaiians to honor their age-old
The islands and reefs we're protecting today have long played an
important role in the history of the Pacific. Archaeologists tell us that
more than a thousand years ago, local islanders drew sustenance from their
brilliant turquoise waters.
Centuries later, Charles Darwin marveled at the wildlife there during
his historic voyage. And none of us can ever forget for four bloody days
in 1942, America's bravest heroes drew a line in the sand there, winning
the Battle of Midway and changing the course of World War II and history.
Today, we renew our commitment to winning the battle to protect our
global environment, preserving this natural heritage for a long time; I
Let me say, it was nearly a century ago, ironically, when President
Roosevelt recognized the same imperative and created the Hawaiian Islands
National Wildlife Refuge. He knew then that our natural wonders, on land
or sea, form an integral part of who we are as a people, and that every
generation of Americans must do its part to sustain and strengthen this
legacy. Today, we do just that, incorporating the refuge he created into a
new, vast and wonderful "Yellowstone of the Sea."
By any measure, creating this coral reserve is a big step forward, not
just for marine conservation in the United States, but for the health of
oceans and reefs around the world.
For thousands of years, people have risked their lives to master the
ocean. Now, suddenly, the ocean's life is at risk. We have the resources
and responsibility to rescue the sea, to renew the very oceans that give us
life, and thereby to renew ourselves. Today is an important step on that
But there is much, much more to be done in the years ahead. And I
hope that no matter who becomes President -- (laughter) -- no matter what
the partisan divide of Congress, that those of you who are here in this
room will continue this work for the rest of your lives. It is profoundly
important. And how our grandchildren live, depends upon how well we do
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 10:30 A.M. EST