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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 20, 2006

Northwestern Hawaiian Islands edge closer to sanctuary status

By Audrey McAvoy
Associated Press

State and federal officials yesterday signed an agreement to help them jointly manage the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, adding momentum to the creation of a marine sanctuary in the 1,400-mile long archipelago.

"It shows everyone else the commitment that each of the agencies shares in protecting the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands," said Peter Young, chairman of the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.

The largely untouched islands and nearby waters are home to about 7,000 species, a quarter of which are unique to Hawai'i. Many of the species are endangered.

Next month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is due to release proposals for rules that would govern a proposed sanctuary around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

The public will be invited to comment on the proposals before the agency decides on any rules.

Much of the proposed sanctuary is currently designated a coral reef ecosystem reserve and a national wildlife refuge. Creating a national marine sanctuary would grant the federal government greater powers to protect the area.

Yesterday's memorandum offers guidelines for managing land and water under joint or adjacent jurisdiction. It also provides for the preservation of the area's resources.

David Allen, Pacific regional director for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said much of how the various agencies work together will be focused on fulfilling the vision of the sanctuary.

"We don't want the public to see us as four different agencies. We want the public to see us working very closely together," Allen said.

Young and Allen signed the document for their departments. Representatives for the National Marine Sanctuary Program and the National Marine Fisheries Service signed for their respective federal agencies.

Rules for governing the proposed sanctuary haven't been decided.

They could potentially prohibit fishing and the harvesting of coral and lobster. Or they could also expand such activities.

Banning fishing in the 132,000-square-mile area would create the largest no-take marine sanctuary in the United States, second in the world only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

One key reason to grant sanctuary status to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands would be to lend permanence to the area's protection measures.

The federal waters around the islands are currently designated a coral reef ecosystem reserve, but that status does not come with permanent funding. Future presidents may also change or revoke the status after taking office.