Citizen group skeptical
of potential marine sanctuary

The council wants the coral
reef system to retain its current
system of protections

By Diana Leone

A citizen advisory council that has shepherded the creation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve grilled federal administrators yesterday about whether their work could be undermined by plans to make the area a National Marine Sanctuary.

Sprawled across 1,100 miles of ocean and including more than 65 percent of the coral reef in U.S. jurisdiction, the reserve was always meant to be a "place-holder" until a more permanent National Marine Sanctuary could be created.

Former President Clinton's executive order creating the reserve in late 2000 was among his last acts.

The coral reefs are the foundation of an ecosystem that hosts a distinctive array of marine mammals, fish, sea turtles, birds and invertebrates, including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and the threatened green sea turtle. The reserve is larger than the land area of Florida and Georgia combined.

Council members said yesterday that they do not want protections given the area as a reserve to be decreased during the conversion to a marine sanctuary, a process that is expected to take years.

National Marine Sanctuary Program Administrator Dan Basta attempted to reassure the council that a sanctuary would be more stable in the long run because it has permanent funding and the support of an established program that serves 14 other sanctuaries. And, he emphasized, it could not be erased by a future president as the executive order-created reserve could.

"It's the intent of the president and Congress that there be long-term protection of this place," Basta said.

Still, some council members and members of the public were frustrated by what they saw as "talking in circles" by Department of Commerce attorneys' answers to their questions.

"The council is asking you tough questions, and it seems to me that you think we are all idiots," said Vicky Holt Takamine during a public-comment period of the meeting at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort. She reminded federal officials that the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are ceded lands, and "we're entrusting you to take care of those lands."

Basta, who was to continue meeting with the council today, said he wants to "resolve the trust issue. We (federal officials and the local council) really have the same objectives and should be working in harmony for these common goals."

E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --