A group of Native Hawaiian islanders and Hawaii-based environmentalists, including from Environmental Defense, have come to Washington this week to urge the US government to permanently protect the remote and fragile Northwest Hawaiian Islands by designating the area as a national monument. The proposal is opposed by commercial fishing interests. President Clinton plans a trip to Hawaii next week where he will likely announce his plan for the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.
The Northwest Hawaiian Islands stretch for 1,200 miles north of Kaua'i and are home to precious coral reefs, endangered monk seals, sea turtles, and hundreds of species of nesting birds. "These Islands provide a critical role as a pu'uhonua (protected area) for species that populate the main Islands," said Louis "Buzzy" Agard, who fished in the area during the 1940s and '50s. "This is the last safe haven for seals and turtles. If commercial fishing is allowed, these populations will be wiped out and will never return."
"The Northwest Hawaiian Islands are a unique world treasure," said Cha Smith, coordinator of KAHEA, the Hawaii Environmental Alliance. "We urge the President to declare them a National Monument."
Current fishery management practices in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands have resulted in the devastation of the lobster population, which is essential to the diet of endangered Hawaiian monk seals. Monk seals recently have been found starving in the area.
"These Native Hawaiian fishermen have traveled a great distance to ask the President to put the preservation of Hawaiian culture and ecology over short-term commercial interests," said Dr. Stephanie Fried, a Hawaii-based Environmental Defense scientist.
"Continuing current management practices would be disastrous," said Isaac Harp, a Maui fisherman who initiated public involvement in protecting the area. "The Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council, certain commercial fishermen, and those interested in collecting precious corals and other organisms claim that the area is already protected. In fact, the remote islands remain vulnerable to exploitation."