NOAA06-R448
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: David Hall
5/11/06
NOAA News Releases 2006
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NOAA RELEASES REPORT ON PROTECTING, UNDERSTANDING
NORTHWESTERN HAWAIIAN ISLANDS CORAL REEFS

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released a five-year report outlining the status of efforts by NOAA and partners to protect, study and manage coral reef ecosystems in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands since a marine reserve was established there in 2000. The report was developed to fulfill a requirement in the National Marine Sanctuaries Amendments Act that a review of management of the reserve be conducted if it had not been designated a national marine sanctuary by October 1, 2005.

NOAA’s "State of the Reserve: 2000-2005" report states that the NOAA-managed reserve has coordinated scientific studies at nearly 400 sites throughout the archipelago, helped remove more than 500 tons of marine debris from coral reefs, and engaged the public through education and outreach programs, public meetings and exhibits. In addition to operations to understand and protect the NWHI, the reserve has conducted a large and extensive public process to consider designating the area as a national marine sanctuary, collecting over 52,000 public comments and holding many stakeholder and constituent meetings.

“The natural and cultural legacy of the northwestern Hawaiian Islands is unique in the world,” said ‘Aulani Wilhelm, acting manager of the NWHI Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve. “NOAA is proud to work alongside our local, state and federal partners to ensure strong, long-term protection for the reefs and marine life of the northwestern Hawaiian Islands so they will continue to thrive forever.”

Encompassing 134,575 square miles of coral reef and deep water habitat, the NWHI Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve is the single largest conservation area – marine or terrestrial – in the United States. The area is home to more than 7,000 marine species, including the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal and threatened green sea turtle. One in four NWHI species are found nowhere else. Due to their isolation, these still-wild coral reefs are among the healthiest and most extensive reef ecosystems remaining on the planet. The region is also of deep cultural significance to native Hawaiians, as documented in oral and written histories, mythologies, genealogies, proverbs, songs, and dances. In 2004, President George W. Bush named the protection of the NWHI as a national ocean policy priority in the U.S. Ocean Action Plan.

Since its inception, the reserve and all of its operations have been funded by NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, whose mission is to support effective management and sound science to preserve, sustain and restore valuable coral reef ecosystems.

“The coral reef ecosystems of the northwestern Hawaiian Islands are among the healthiest and most intact of U.S. reef systems,” said David Kennedy, manager of NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program. “Research and management of these valuable reefs and the life they support has been a top priority for the program.”

A public process is underway to consider designation of the reserve as a national marine sanctuary. NOAA is in the final stages of developing draft regulations, a draft environmental impact statement and draft management plan. After their release, these documents will be available for public review and comment.

The NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program manages the NWHI reserve in close cooperation with the state of Hawai‘i and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with input from the NWHI Reserve Advisory Council and the public.

“The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve serves as a major catalyst for ocean science, conservation and literacy,” said Daniel J. Basta, director of the National Marine Sanctuary Program. “The State of the Reserve report reflects the leadership, hard work and dedication of the many people who have come together to make the northwestern Hawaiian Islands reserve a jewel in the crown of conservation, science, education and management.”

The State of the Reserve report is available at: http://www.hawaiireef.noaa.gov/documents/. Hard copies may be obtained by sending requests to stephanie.lachance@noaa.gov.

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of the nation's coastal and marine resources. Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, over 60 countries and the European Commission to develop a global network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

On the Web:

NOAA: http://www.noaa.gov

NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program: http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov

Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve:
http:www.hawaiireef.noaa.gov