Papahanaumokuakea a fitting name for islands' rebirth
A new name has been bestowed on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands marine monument.
THE Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument
has been given an eloquent name that underlines the importance of its preservation. A combination of Hawaiian words tracing the birthplace of the archipelago, the name also parallels the monument's station as a reservoir for marine animals and other wildlife.
The announcement of the new name last week by first lady Laura Bush was a time to celebrate a decades-long effort to protect the 140,000 square miles of coral reefs, islands, atolls and ocean areas, but much remains to be done.
Clear lines of authority need to be established among the two federal agencies -- the Commerce and Interior departments -- and the state government, all of whom have oversight of the monument. Co-management can muddle operations when interests conflict even though as a monument, taking plants and animals is restricted along with commercial and recreational activities.
The designation assigns responsibility of deep-water management to both Interior and Commerce, federal refuges and refuge ocean areas to Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service and state refuges to Hawaii government, but access to the monument is controlled solely by the two departments, and the justifications for allowing access remain undetermined.
Research, a permitted activity in the monument, is supposed to be limited to that which furthers preservation efforts for the area itself, but too many projects can be harmful unless strictly controlled. Specimen collections should be closely monitored as well as the impact of vessels that could discharge fuel, sewage and other human waste. Ballast water, alien organisms that hitch rides on hulls and other pests also need to be controlled to protect the monument.
The prospect of tourism activities is another concern. While the only island currently open to visitors is Midway, an increase in accommodations, which is being considered, could be damaging and set back habitat recovery. Moreover, if Midway becomes known as a visitor attraction, that might lead to more people wanting to get there, even illegally. And since enforcement would be difficult and costly, keeping private vessels out of Papahanaumokuakea's waters might become impossible.
In formulating regulations, the agencies need to incorporate the public's views, which already have been compiled through more than 100 public meetings and 52,000 public comments that were gathered when the federal government was considering establishing a less restrictive sanctuary designation for the islands and their coral reefs.
Most favored strong protections, reflecting Gov. Linda Lingle's sentiments that "there should be a place in the world where we don't take things away, just protect them."
To that end, government entities should negotiate with those who still hold permits to fish in the monument. Then, Papahanaumokuakea really will be the world's largest no-take marine haven.