Fact Sheet: President Clinton: Preserving America's Coral Reefs (12/4/00)
                             December 4, 2000

President Clinton today will announce strong, new protections for the
remote and pristine coral reefs of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which
comprise nearly 70 percent of America?s coral reefs.  In an event at the
National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C., the President will issue
an Executive Order establishing the 84 million-acre Northwestern Hawaiian
Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve -- the largest protected area ever
created in the United States.  Today?s action builds on a tradition of
preservation for these remote islands, atolls, and submerged lagoons --
including the 1906 designation of the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife
Refuge -- and brings strong protections to reefs that are home to
endangered monk seals and sea turtles. In addition, the President will
announce a Department of Commerce report, Discovering Earth?s Final
Frontier, that charts a bold course for U.S. ocean exploration in the 21st

Strong Protection for an Extraordinary But Fragile Habitat.  On May 26,
President Clinton directed the Secretaries of Commerce and the Interior to
develop recommendations for "strong and lasting protection for the coral
reef ecosystem of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands."  The 3.5 million
acres of coral reefs comprise nearly 70 percent of our nation?s reefs, and
some of the healthiest reefs in the world.  These islands and reefs have
long played an important role in the history of the Pacific.  Archeological
evidence suggests 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
around the world. And in 1942, American soldiers drew a line in the sand
there, winning the Battle of Midway and changing the course of history.

In developing their recommendations, the Departments of Commerce and the
Interior held public ?visioning sessions? throughout Hawaii, and
coordinated with state officials, Native Hawaiian groups, the Western
Pacific Fishery Management Council, and the Hawaii congressional
delegation.  Based on the Secretaries? recommendations, today?s Executive

?    Establishes the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem
Reserve extending along the 1,200 mile-long island chain, a total area of
99,500 square nautical miles (131,800 square statute miles), larger than
Florida and Georgia combined. The reserve boundary excludes state waters,
and preserves the existing Midway Atoll and Northwest Hawaiian Islands
national wildlife refuges.

?    Prohibits oil, gas and mineral production, the discharge or disposal
of materials, and the removal of coral throughout the reserve; and caps
commercial and recreational fishing at current levels. Allows Native
Hawaiian subsistence and cultural uses to continue.

?    Designates 15 "reserve preservation areas" -- encompassing some 4
million acres, or roughly five percent of the reserve -- where activities
such as commercial and recreational fishing, anchoring, and collecting or
touching coral will be prohibited. These areas include critical habitat for
endangered monk seals.  The Secretary of Commerce will seek public comment
on making these preservation areas permanent.

?    Directs the Secretary of Commerce to develop a Reserve Operations
Plan, in consultation with the Secretary of the Interior and the Governor
of Hawaii; and to begin the process of incorporating the reserve into the
National Marine Sanctuary Program, a network of protected areas that
safeguards special marine habitats and cultural sites in U.S. waters.

?    Directs the Commerce Secretary to establish the Northwestern Hawaiian
Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve Council to ensure continued input from
Native Hawaiian, scientific, environmental, education, fishing, and tourism
communities into the ongoing management of the reserve. Also directs the
Secretary to seek public comment on the conservation measures for the

Preserving the "Rainforests of the Sea."  Coral reefs are often described
as the "rainforests of the sea." Although coral reefs cover less than one
percent of the planet?s surface, they are the world?s most biologically
diverse marine ecosystems. In addition, coral reefs provide food and jobs,
protect communities from storms, and generate billions of dollars in
revenues each year.  Around the world, human activities are rapidly
degrading and destroying coral reefs, threatening the survival of these
valuable and ancient marine ecosystems, and the communities and economies
that depend on them.  Scientists at last month?s International Coral Reef
Symposium presented strong evidence that, without new protections, as much
as half the world?s remaining coral reefs could disappear within 25 years.

In June 1998, President Clinton issued an Executive Order establishing the
U.S. Coral Reef Task Force.  Chaired by the Secretaries of Commerce and the
Interior, the task force has led the development and implementation of
efforts to map and monitor U.S. coral reefs; research the causes of coral
reef degradation; reduce and mitigate coral reef degradation from
pollution, overfishing and other causes; and implement conservation
strategies internationally.

Safeguarding Our Oceans and Coasts.  Today?s action builds on a strong
record of ocean protection. President Clinton and Vice President Gore have
launched new actions to safeguard our coasts from the risks of offshore oil
development, strengthen marine sanctuaries, and protect dolphins and other
marine mammals. And to better address the long-term challenges, the
President and Vice President launched a national dialogue leading to a
comprehensive strategy for strengthening federal ocean policy for the 21st

As part of this commitment to ocean stewardship, the President today will
announce a new Department of Commerce report, Discovering Earth?s Final
Frontier, that charts a bold course for U.S. ocean exploration. On June 12,
the President directed the Commerce Secretary to convene a panel of ocean
explorers and scientists to develop recommendations. The panel ? chaired by
Dr. Marsha McNutt of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute ? calls
for a national program in ocean exploration that is global in scope, but
concentrated initially in areas under U.S. jurisdiction. It urges
incentives to private industry to encourage funding of research and
development of discoveries with commercial potential.

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