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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Jim Connaughton
Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality

June 20, 2006

Jim Connaughton
Good afternoon everybody. As a scuba diver, coral and marine life enthusiast, and a sometime economic and military history buff, today's topic is a particular personal pleasure to discuss! Last week, President Bush signed a proclamation to establish the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument. This action represents the largest single act of conservation in our nation’s history and creates the largest protected marine area in the world. I am pleased to answer your questions today on this historic event.

Ashley, from Boulder, CO writes:
I just want to thank the administration for taking this giant step toward protecting our water and our ecosystems. Water is our most precious resource, far more so than gold, and my heart is singing today. Thank you to President Bush and everyone else who participated in this historic moment. Only good things can come from this and hopefully it will set a precedent for further protection and conservation measures.

Jim Connaughton
Thank you Ashley for striking such a strong personal chord in your question. You should know that, for those assembled with the President and First Lady in the East Room of the White House in support of the proclamation, the moment was also quite emotional. The proclamation was the culmination of a very long consensus process involving state, local and federal officials, native Hawaiians, interest groups of all types, and national and global ocean conservation leaders. Famed ocean explorers Jean-Michel Cousteau (son of Jacques) and Sylvia Earle added to the weight of the moment with their inspiration and dedication to making the public aware of this treasured natural, cultural and historic resource, but also the broader need to take action to protect and wisely manage our ocean resources.

Daniel, from Washington, D.C. writes:
How many acres is the new monument? How does it compare in size to the other National Monuments? Thanks for protecting the environment.

Jim Connaughton
The new Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument is approximately 140,000 square miles. That's about 90 million acres! It is larger than 46 of our 50 states and is more than a 100 times bigger than Yosemite National Park. It is about 7 times as big as all of the other national marine sanctuaries put together. If it were on land, it is as long as the drive from Chicago, Illinois to Miami, Florida and as wide as the drive from Washington, D.C. to the Atlantic coast.

Michael, from Powell, TN writes:
How is a National Monument made?

Jim Connaughton
Michael, one of the first conservation laws passed in 1906, the Antiquities Act, gives the President authority to declare a national monument through a public proclamation. This is done in very special circumstances. Renowned conservationist President Teddy Roosevelt was the first to use the law. President Bush was pleased to use this authority just following the Act's 100th anniversary earlier this month.

Cayla, from California writes:
I was wondering why the president has waited so long to preserve this area. I heard that his interest in the area was sparked by a documentary by PBS at a private showing in the White House quite a while ago.

Jim Connaughton
Actually, Cayla, we got going on the process way back in 2001. In, fact it is one of the first projects I helped initiate after the President appointed me. We then spent the better of part of five years in a massive public outreach to build consensus on the levels of protection and ideas for appropriate management of this vast resource. Public involvement to date included more than 100 meetings and working group sessions that were open to the public, including 22 formal public hearings in Hawaii and in Washington, D.C., generating over 52,000 public comments. The vast majority of these comments called for strong and lasting protection for the region.

In December 2004, the President's Ocean Action Plan publicy called for protection of this area. After that, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle established full protection for the portion of the waters and land controlled by the state.

Then just, last April the President and Mrs. Bush were pleased to host Governor Lingle and others in the marine exploration and conservation community for a showing of Jean Michel Cousteau's film in the movie theater at the White House. You are correct that the President and First Lady were particularly moved by the movie and by a lengthy and earnest conversation with Cousteau and Dr. Sylvia Earle, a well-known marine biologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence.

This event reinforced the President's resolve not just to take action but to complete the process rapidly. He felt that the five years of public process and the broad agreement achieved provided the necessary foundation for taking the step of invoking his Presidential authority under the Antiquities Act, so we could move forward immediately with protection and design of an effective management plan. The strong bi-partisan support of the Governor (a Republican) and the Hawaii congressional delegation (Democrats) was very important as well.

President Bush felt very strongly about conserving this important natural treasure and recognized that others did as well. That is why he created this new National Monument.

Sasha, from Port Angeles writes:
Which federal Agency will manage the Marine Monument?

Jim Connaughton
The monument will be jointly managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the Department of Commerce and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)in the Department of the Interior, working closely with the State of Hawaii in what we call "seamless management." After all, the wildlife and ecosystems in this area do not know the difference between these agencies and their legal jurisdictions. The President charged the ocean and marine life experts at NOAA to oversee the new marine areas and the biologists at the Fish and Wildlife Service to apply their skills to the wildlife refuge areas.

David, from Washington, DC writes:
First of all, congradulations on the creation of the new Marine National Monument. When does the Administration anticipate having the management plan and necesarry regulations finalized?

Jim Connaughton
A very critical question David. The Proclamation enables us to go forward more rapidly to complete the work underway on the management plan for the resource, which we will complete within in 18 months. Any needed regulations will be issued as soon as possible. But a lot will happen before then. For example, within 30 days, NOAA should approve a list of "vessel monitoring systems" for boats that intend to enter the monument. In fact, as soon as I conclude this session of Ask the White House, we will be meeting with the agencies to discuss these and many other implementation needs.

Gregory, from Torrance, CA writes:
Chairman Connaughton, my question for you is how will we be able to protect the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine Monument from people who might try to poach the wildlife there? Is that the forest service's responsibility and will they be able to handle it? Thank you.

Jim Connaughton
Enforcement responsibilities for poaching or for any other attempted removal or destruction of the resources within the monument are the responsibility of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Both of those agencies have law enforcement personnel, and they will be assisted by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Jeff, from Ely, Nevada writes:
How much will building this new monument cost?

Jim Connaughton
In this instance Jeff, Mother Nature built this spectacular and thriving natural environment that we now call the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Mounment. The cost, of course is priceless.

Our job is to protect it, learn from it, and look to it as a source of inspiration for stewardship of the marine resources on which we all depend for food, for transportation, for recreation, for science, and for education. We must use and enjoy these wisely too!

Jim Connaughton
Well, this concludes our online session, but the online experience does not have to stop with me. Check out the info prepared by NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program at

Additional information about the wildlife refuges and Midway Island can be at the Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service website. And the State of Hawaii also hosts information about the islands.

Cousteau's "The Voyage to Kure" on PBS and the National Geographic Society's magazine piece and photo book are also a must to truly appreciate this resource.

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