Whatever their status,
reefs merit protection


Changing the status of the Northwestern Hawaiian Island reserve to a marine sanctuary generates conflict.

CONSERVATION advocates -- worried that transferring the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands coral reef ecosystem from reserve status to national marine sanctuary will result in diluted protections -- have cause for concern with the Bush administration's reputation on environmental issues. If the conversion will provide long-term safeguards for the nearly pristine ecosystem, the process should move ahead, but preservation supporters should remain vigilant in steering rules toward sustaining one of the nation's most important ocean wilderness areas.

The reserve, which encompasses about 1,100 miles of ocean, islands, atolls and nearly 70 percent of the coral reefs in the United States, was established in 2000 by executive order of President Clinton. It harbors endangered turtles and marine mammals, corals and birds and serves as a natural hatchery for many species of commercially sought fish.

Clinton's order was accompanied by a second that requires establishment of a marine sanctuary to supplement or complement the reserve. When Bush took office, some feared he would overturn the order, but he let it stand. Soon after, however, federal officials hinted that limits Clinton's order placed, including those on commercial fishing and harvesting of coral, would be re-evaluated in setting up the sanctuary.

Conservation advocates and a citizens advisory council are concerned that the administration is using the sanctuary process to undo the restrictions. At meetings this week with U.S. Department of Commerce officials, the council sought to have current rules maintained when the reserve is converted to a sanctuary, but the officials said all options would remain open in the process.

Commerce officials warned that unlike a sanctuary, a reserve cannot count on funding or permanence, and if research showed that fishing, tourism and other commercial activities could take place without harming the ecosystem, the government could allow them.

The conflict between conservationists and commercial interests over natural areas is all too common and, as always, a balance should be sought. However, the primary goal of Clinton's order was to protect a rare ecosystem. That should remain no matter what designation -- reserve or sanctuary -- is applied.


Guard personal IDs
from faraway thieves


Complaints by victims of fraud and identity theft in Hawaii more than doubled last year from the previous year.

FRAUD and identity-theft complaints have risen dramatically in Hawaii, ranked among the states where residents are most likely to be victims of white-collar crime. Consumer crimes in the state more than doubled last year from 2001, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Hawaii residents need to be especially wary of having their identities stolen for fraudulent purposes, partly due to the state's remoteness.

The FTC says state and federal agencies received 1,704 complaints about fraud and identity theft in Hawaii last year, compared with 844 complaints in 2001. Nationally, such complaints rose from 86,000 in 2001 to 162,000 in 2002. Part of the increase may have been caused by increased consumer awareness about reporting, but much of it probably reflects greater use of the Internet, a favorite medium for fraud.

Among states, Hawaii's fraud victimization was second highest, with 91.7 complaints per 100,000 population. One-third of the fraud complaints were directed at Internet auctions, nonexistent just a few years ago. More than half of the nearly 600 thefts of Hawaii residents' identities resulted in fraudulent credit-card charges, while bank and utilities fraud complaints resulting from ID thefts also were numerous.

Honolulu Police Detective Chris Duque, who investigates Internet crime, believes Hawaii's distance from the mainland contributes to the state's high rate of victimization. The rate of Internet victims per capita is second only to the District of Columbia. Hawaii ranks third -- behind D.C. and Alaska -- in identity-theft complaints per capita, on or off the Internet.

Duque says some mainland perpetrators of fraud target Hawaii residents because of what they believe is the improbability that they will be extradited such a long distance to be prosecuted for the crime. Alaska's high rate of fraud victims may be due to the same factor -- its separation from the contiguous states.

The trade commission recommends that consumers shred financial documents and give out Social Security numbers judiciously. That cautionary action can be difficult for Hawaii residents who still have Social Security numbers on their driver's licenses, used by store clerks to verify identities. Financial companies show their cognizance of the problem when they ask customers for only the last four digits of Social Security numbers for verification over the phone.


Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner, Assistant Editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, Assistant Editor 529-4762;

Mary Poole, Editorial Page Editor, 529-4748;
John Flanagan, Contributing Editor 294-3533;

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