• DLNR supports move to protect Hawai’i’s northwestern islands
DLNR supports move to protect Hawai’i’s northwestern islands
By Peter T. Young
The recent Kauai County Council resolution to support the protection of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) is a very positive sign. The resolution follows on the heels of Governor Lingle’s unprecedented designation of all state waters bordering the remote archipelago as a National Marine Refuge.
With her signature, Governor Lingle, in her words, “set in motion the most significant marine conservation initiative in the history of Hawai’i by creating the State’s largest marine refuge.”
The effort to protect this wilderness area continues to gain momentum and support among a growing partner-ship that has formed among environmental groups which includes the Sierra Club, Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the Nature Conservancy, a host of others, and now the Kauai City Council.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is very pleased that Kauai County, which serves as gateway of sorts to the NWHI, endorses protection of the archipelago.
Our partners realize and appreciate the fact that this resource is home to one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world, containing approximately 70 percent of the United States’ coral reefs. It is also home to more than 7000 marine species, many of which are endemic, and several endangered species including the Hawaiian monk seal.
The resource is so rich and unique that an effort is underway to have the archipelago designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, and its mission is to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.
If the NWHI do achieve UNESCO World Heritage status, they will share this distinction with resources as diverse (and far flung) as the vast East African Serengeti Plain, the Pyramids of Egypt, and the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.
In fact, the NWHI will enjoy a special designation. They will be the first to achieve the World Heritage status because of their cultural, as well as their natural, resources.
Two islands in the NWHI chain feature more than 80 habitation sites, agricultural terraces and burial caves — archaeological sites of outstanding value to Polynesian history and culture.
In spite of its abundant marine life and cultural resources, this chain of jewels strung out across 1200 miles of the Pacific is not without flaws.
Marine debris and ghost nets are serious problems. A recent summary of findings issued by the Ocean Conservancy and the Marine Conservation Biology Institute states that the bottomfish populations in the fishery are also being overtaxed.
According to trends mapped by these two organizations, if we maintain our current levels harvesting the federal waters surrounding the NWHI, we may arrive at the danger threshold for the bottomfish population in 2006.
DLNR endorses a program that would, in time, phase out all fishing in and around the archipelago.
What would we give to save the Pyramids, the Great Barrier Reef and the Serengeti? In Governor Lingle’s words, the NWHI region is “Hawai’i’s gift not only to our residents, but to the global community as a world-class natural resource.”
DLNR encourages any organization which realizes the value of this resource to join the partnership and help us establish a legacy for mankind.
- Peter T. Young is chairperson of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources