NOAA 2002-R404
Contact: Delores Clark
NOAA News Releases 2002
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Ocean Agency Unveils Four Actions to Protect Corals,
Designate Reserve as National Marine Sanctuary

The Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is announcing today four inter-related actions to protect marine life and the pristine condition of the ecosystem of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The agency's aim is to maintain strong protections for the nation's largest coral reef area and begin the process for designating the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve (Reserve) as a National Marine Sanctuary.

"The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which contain approximately 70 percent of the nation's coral reefs, will be protected under this comprehensive proposal," said retired Navy VADM Conrad Lautenbacher, Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. "It's a great opportunity to safeguard this vibrant coral reef ecosystem for long-term environmental and economic benefits."

Designating the Reserve as a National Marine Sanctuary would enable comprehensive and coordinated management of the area. The Reserve would be the nation's 14th National Marine Sanctuary, becoming part of a system of sanctuaries around the country.

"The National Marine Sanctuaries are our nation's best vehicles for marine protection, in terms of ecosystem management, research, education and enforcement," said Robert Smith, NOAA's Reserve Coordinator for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Reserve. "Public input is critical to planning for the future of this remote and fragile marine wilderness. From the outset, the public will be participants in considering how best to conserve biological, historical and cultural resources of global significance for future generations."

The first set of actions is aimed at providing long term management of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands marine resources. They include:

  • Initiating the process for designating the Reserve as a National Marine Sanctuary
  • Issuing the draft Reserve Operations Plan for public comment

The sanctuary proposal begins with a public scoping process that solicits information and comments from the public on the range and significance of issues related to the designation and management of the proposed sanctuary. The results of this scoping process will assist NOAA in drafting a management plan and an environmental impact statement. Scoping will be held for 60 days with public meetings beginning in April.

Under the Sanctuaries Act, the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council will have an opportunity to develop draft fishery regulations as part of the sanctuary designation process.

The executive order creating the Reserve calls for a Reserve Operation Plan, which provides a guide for management of the Reserve during the sanctuary designation process. The draft plan addresses priority issues such as marine debris, cultural resources and enforcement. The draft Reserve Operations Plan is now available for public review and comment for sixty days. The final plan is expected shortly thereafter.

Other measures include:

  • Release of the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council's Coral Reef Ecosystem Fishery Management Plan (CREFMP) for public comment
  • Release of a final rule concerning the harvest of precious corals

The Coral Reef Ecosystem Fishery Management Plan seeks to foster sustainable use of coral reef ecosystem resources in an ecologically and culturally sensitive manner; minimize adverse human impacts on coral reef ecosystems through establishment of marine protected areas; and provide for sustainable participation by fishing communities in the ecosystem fisheries. It was approved by the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council in June 2001, and is the first ecosystem-based fishery management plan to be developed under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Its release for public comment is the third step in developing a broad ecosystem-based management approach to the marine assets of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Some provisions of the CREFMP appear to be in conflict with the management regime for the Reserve and may require further action. The public has until 5 p.m. on May 18, 2002, to comment on the proposed plan to NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries).

The fourth part of the ecosystem-based strategy is a series of six management measures developed by the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council that update the council's regulations implementing the Fishery Management Plan for Precious Corals. The measures set gear restrictions, size limits and definitions governing the harvest of precious-coral resources. Additionally, as required by the management regime for the Reserve, the harvesting of precious coral from the Reserve will be prohibited. The regulations will become effective April 17, 2002.

"Currently, there is very little harvesting under way in this pristine part of our marine environment," said Charles Karnella, director of the NOAA Fisheries Pacific Islands Area Office. "These management measures will help keep this area the valuable resource it is today."

Comments on the proposed sanctuary designation and draft Reserve Operations Plan may be submitted to NOAA at any of the public scoping meetings, or in writing to the following address:

Aulani Wilhelm, 6700 Kalanianaole Highway, #215, Honolulu, Hawaii 96825; or via e-mail at

Written comments on the proposed Coral Reef Ecosystems Fishery Management Plan may be sent to:

Dr. Charles Karnella, Administrator; Pacific Islands Office, NOAA Fisheries; 1161 Kapiolani Blvd. Suite 110; Honolulu, HI 96815.

NOAA Fisheries is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation's living marine resources through scientific research, management, enforcement, and conservation of o our marine mammals and other protected marine species and their habitat. To learn more about NOAA Fisheries, please visit

NOAA's National Ocean Service (NOS) is dedicated to exploring, understanding, conserving and restoring the nation's coasts and oceans. NOS balances environmental protection with economic prosperity in fulfilling its mission of promoting safe navigation, supporting coastal communities, sustaining coastal habitats and mitigating coastal hazards. To learn more about NOS, please visit