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Regional Action Plan For The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Begins

More than 100 scientists, educators and resource managers who met in Honolulu last week laid the groundwork for a regional action plan for one of the nation’s unique marine treasures, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Sanctuary Program sponsored the first collaborative workshop of its kind in more than 20 years. NOAA is a part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

"A regional action plan is a logical next step in assisting all parties involved in the conservation, management, protection, and study of resources," said Daniel J. Basta, director of NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program. "We are redoubling our commitment to the area with the establishment of a post-workshop team who will take the ideas articulated in the workshop and help facilitate the development of an action plan."

Participants in the "Information Needs for Conservation and Management: A Workshop on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands" identified priority scientific and informational needs for understanding and managing the marine waters and associated habitats and resources of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI). The three-day process was successful in the following areas:

* Building a foundation for establishing similar priorities to support the current and future management of NOAA’s NWHI Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve.

* Identifying a specific set of recommendations on information needs associated with the characterization, monitoring, and research of the marine waters, habitats, and resources of the NWHI.

* Drafting associated strategies or actions across a broad set of disciplines and practices that includes hypothesis-driven science as well as Native Hawaiian traditional knowledge.

The workshop and continuing activities are a collaborative effort by representatives from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Hawaii, Bishop Museum, Western Pacific Fishery Management Council and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

The NWHI is a mostly uninhabited chain of small islands that stretch more than 1,000 miles northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands. A major portion of all coral reefs in the U.S. are in NWHI waters, and it is home to several federally protected species including the threatened green sea turtle and endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Native Hawaiians were the first to find the islands and regularly ventured to parts of the region for economic and religious reasons. It is the site of one of the oldest National Wildlife Refuges, the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, designated in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt. On December 4, 2000, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve was created by an executive order and is managed by NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program.

The NMSP seeks to increase public awareness of America’s maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration and educational programs. Today, 13 national marine sanctuaries encompass more than 18,000 square miles of America’s ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources. In addition, the NMSP is conducting a sanctuary designation process to determine if it is appropriate to incorporate the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve into the national sanctuary system.

NOAA National Ocean Service manages the National Marine Sanctuary Program and is dedicated to exploring, understanding, conserving and restoring the nation’s coasts and oceans. National Ocean Service balances environmental protection with economic prosperity in fulfilling its mission of promoting safe navigation, supporting coastal communities, sustaining coastal habitats and mitigating coastal hazards.

NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resource.

On the Web:

National Ocean Service –
National Marine Sanctuary Program —
NWHI Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve –

Cliff Etzel
Cliff Etzel
Cliff is the former Freediving editor of He is now a freelance journalist and film-maker.