Today President Bush plans to declare the northwest portion of the Hawaiian Islands as a marine reserve.
The roughly 100-mile-wide area encompasses a string of uninhabited islands that support more than 7,000 marine species, at least a fourth of which are found nowhere else on Earth.
The islands include almost 70 percent of the nation's tropical, shallow-water coral reefs, a rookery for 14 million seabirds, and the last refuge for the endangered Hawaiian monk seal and the threatened green sea turtle. The area also has an abundance of large predatory fish at a time when 90 percent of such species have disappeared from the world's oceans.
Encompassing nearly 140,000 square miles, an area nearly the size of Montana and larger than all the national parks combined, the reserve will just surpass Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park as the largest protected marine area in the world. It will also, however, be one of the least accessible.
In the same area, President Theodore Roosevelt had created a bird sanctuary on some islands in 1909. Protecting Hawaii's endemic species, both birds and otherwise, has been a special challenge for conservation organizations because of isolated populations and predators introduced by humans over the years. This should be one step in the right direction, with proper management.
A turning point came in April, when Bush sat through a 65-minute private White House screening of a PBS documentary that unveiled the beauty of — and perils facing — the archipelago's aquamarine waters and its nesting seabirds, sea turtles and sleepy-eyed monk seals, all threatened by extinction.Someone ought to show him Al Gore's new movie.
The film seemed to catch Bush's imagination, according to senior officials and others in attendance. The president popped up from his front-row seat after the screening; congratulated filmmaker Jean-Michel Cousteau, son of the late underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau; and urged the White House staff to get moving on protecting these waters.
"He was enthusiastic," Cousteau said. "The show had a major impact on him, the way my father's shows had on so many people. I think he really made a discovery — a connection between the quality of our lives and the oceans."