August 12, 2008
Cleanup Efforts Slow on Islands
WASHINGTON - Two years ago, with fanfare, President Bush declared a remote chain of Hawaiian islands the biggest, most environmentally protected area of ocean in the world.
It hasn't worked out that way.
Cleanup efforts have slowed, garbage is still piling up and Mr. Bush has cut his budget request by 80 percent.
Winning rare praise from conservationists, the president declared the 140,000-square-mile chain in northwestern Hawaii the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in June 2006. That's pronounced Pa-pa-hah-now-mo-koo-ah-keh-ah.
His proclamation featured some of the strictest measures ever placed on a marine environment. Any material that might injure the area's sensitive coral reefs and 7,000 rare species - a fourth of them found nowhere else in the world - would be prohibited, even if the debris drifted in from thousands of miles away. \
Many who had fought to get the islands protected thought making the area a monument would accelerate debris pickup. Instead, after an expensive and aggressive sweep in 2002-2005, the administration decided to downshift to a maintenance level.
"It is very disappointing, here you have this designation as a monument, and there has been less visible activity going on in the monument," said Chris Woolaway, an independent environmental consultant, who coordinates The Ocean Conservancy's "Get the Drift and Bag It" international coastal cleanup program. "There is a need to expand the effort."
Ocean currents are still bringing an estimated 57 tons of garbage and discarded fishing gear to the 10 islands and the waters surrounding them each year. Endangered monk seals are still being snared and coral reefs smothered by discarded fishing nets. Albatrosses are still feeding on indigestible plastic and feeding it to their young.
Debris removal has fallen to 35 tons a year since the islands became a monument, about a third of the 102 tons that boats and divers collected on average before that, including junk that was already there.
And the Bush administration slashed the debris cleanup budget from the $2.1 million spent in 2005, requesting only $400,000 a year through 2008.
Mr. Bush now wants an extra $100,000 for removing the garbage that litters the islands' beaches and get snagged on its reefs. But the total amount he would spend in 2009 is still only about 25 percent of what was being spent four years earlier. Congress last year added $352,000 to the $400,000 requested by the president for cleaning up Papahanaumokuakea.
"It is wonderful that our nation has made a commitment, and this administration deserves a lot of credit for designating the world's largest marine reserve, but there is a responsibility that goes along with that," said Elliott Norse, the president of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Washington state.
Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said that while Mr. Bush was making the area a national monument, his administration had "decided to reduce its level of commitment to removing marine debris and only address new accumulations."
"The administration is not keeping pace, and this is disappointing," the senator said.
In 2006 he pushed a bill through Congress authorizing up to $15 million each year to tackle marine debris nationwide.
But that law and a separate initiative announced last November by first lady Laura Bush have not stemmed the trash tide.
Originally published by Associated Press.
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