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For Immediate Release
Office of the First Lady
November 2, 2007

Mrs. Bush's Remarks at a Coastal Ecosystem Learning Center Designation and Marine Debris Initiative Announcement
University of Southern Mississippi
Ocean Springs, Mississippi

12:35 P.M CDT

MRS. BUSH: Thanks, everybody, and thank you, Jim. Thanks so much. Thank you all. Governor Barbour, it's great to be here, and every time I'm back in Mississippi things look better and better. And I want to congratulate you and all the people of Mississippi for your very hard work in this unprecedented sort of having to rebuild that you've had -- and especially the school districts. I also want to congratulate them for rebuilding. It's really unprecedented for whole school districts to have to rebuild total school districts in our history, all at once and as fast as they can. So thank you all for everything you've done.

And Martha, thanks so much, and thank you for the University of Southern Mississippi's hosting us here. And thanks a lot for that. Secretary Kempthorne, Jim Connaughton. I know that the Mayor of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, is here, Mayor Connie Moran. Thank you -- oh, there you are, right behind me. Thank you, Connie, so much for joining us. And thank you very much to our distinguished panel, who disappeared when I turned around to look at them. (Laughter.) Oh, they're right back there. Thank you all very much.

I'm so happy to be here to talk about what we can do to be good stewards of our natural environment, especially our oceans. Of the earth's millions of species, nearly half are supported by our oceans. These waters contain countless natural treasures. They carry much of our shipping and trade, and they support recreation and travel for millions of people.

In the United States, one out of every six jobs is marine related. The oceans provide the food we eat and often the water we drink. The Gulf of Mexico, which is right a few blocks over, is the world's ninth largest body of water. It's home to the most extensive coral reefs in the continental United States. It's also home to more than 30 varieties of dolphins and whales, thousands of species of fish and birds. It's the home to five species of sea turtles. These sea turtles are on the threatened and endangered species list, including the Kemp's Ridley Turtle, which is the world's most endangered turtle.

More than 5 million acres of Gulf Coastal wetlands serve as essential habitat for fish and wildlife, including migratory water foul and seabirds, and also sport and commercial fisheries.

Of course, the Gulf's marine life is a huge part of this area's economy. Last year, the commercial fish and shellfish harvest from the five Gulf Coast states was estimated at more than a billion pounds, and about $690 million worth. The Gulf's majestic beauty and its great recreational opportunities support a booming tourist economy as well, to the tune of about $20 billion a year.

Whether we live on the shore or not, all of us have the obligation to care for these amazing natural resources. The water quality in the Gulf, for example, is influenced by people as far away as Wisconsin: The Mississippi River deposits more than 3 million gallons of water into the Gulf every second, supplying more than 90 percent of the freshwater that enters the Gulf of Mexico. And the quality of this water is influenced by the 31 states bordering the Mississippi Basin.

I've seen what humans can do and what our behavior can do to devastate marine life. Jim told you about -- Jim and Secretary Kempthorne and I got to visit Midway Island. Midway is the only inhabited island of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands that President Bush designated as a National Marine Monument. It's 140,000 square miles of National Marine Monument that he named. And when we were there -- we happened to be there at the very same times the Laysan Albatross were nesting. The Laysan Albatross is a tall bird. They nest on the ground because there are no natural predators of theirs at Midway where they nest. And so when we were there, we literally had to look where we walked or we would step on one of these funny little chicks, little Laysan Albatross chicks that were in their nest on the ground.

And they don't leave their nest because their parents do leave and fish on the oceans and then come back and feed them, and so they have to be where their parents left them, and they just instinctively stay in these nests.

We became very fond of these funny little birds that we watched, but we also saw the carcasses of a lot of these infant Laysan Albatross, because when their parents fish, they fish on the surface for squid, and that's where the plastic floats. And so they eat plastic and then feed their babies, regurgitate this plastic that they've eaten.

So we would see the little carcasses, and when we sort of looked in them, you would see cigarette lighters and toothbrushes and bottle caps and toys -- toy cars or little tires from toys -- and every single type of plastic that we all know we use every day.

And this is not from falling off of a boat. I mean, this isn't plastic that fell overboard, although certainly a lot of debris in the ocean is fishing gear that did fall from boats or was tossed from boats. But this could be a cigarette lighter somebody dropped in a curb, you know, on their street somewhere in the United States or anywhere in the world, and it slowly washed through the drains out into the oceans, and then finally ended up at these Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

So that reminded me, when I saw these little Laysan Albatross carcasses, baby carcasses, of how what we do here can affect every single part of our world, and why it's so important for us to make sure children know that. And that's one of the great things about what we just saw with these children inside. They were going through debris that somebody had picked up, marine debris. And of course, a lot of it was Styrofoam buoys, real marine debris that happens because of marine economy. But a lot of it were just things that people had dropped somewhere -- a lot of plastic, a lot of wrappers from -- plastic wrappers from paper, a lot of cans, a lot of beer cans. (Laughter.) That's what they got to go through.

But it really is very important that state and local governments and industry and academia and non-profit organizations and our federal institutions work together to make sure we reduce and remove debris in the marine environment.

Today I'm happy to announce that our government will expand this work with a new Marine Debris Initiative. The United States will work with international partners and organizations to prevent fishing gear from becoming lost in marine habitats. Up at the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, volunteer divers dive all summer and pull fishing nets from coral reefs there. Animals, including the unbelievable seal that we saw get caught in this marine -- in marine fishing nets and die from it. So it's really important for us to work with other countries. It'd be great if fishing nets were marked with the country of origin so we would know, we could say to the Japanese, this is how many nets we removed of yours, or we could say to the United States fishing industry or whoever is responsible.

We'll also work to promote the annual international cleanup that our panelist was talking about earlier in more than a hundred countries around the world. But one of the most important parts will be to make sure people are educated about marine debris and what they can do about it.

Successful conservation really depends upon informed citizens. As Jean-Michel Cousteau said -- the son of Jacques Cousteau, who's also an ocean explorer himself -- he says, "How can we protect what we don't understand?" And many, many people don't understand our oceans and how important they are to all of us.

With this new Marine Debris Initiative, our government will expand public education and ocean understanding through NOAA's Marine Debris Web Education Campaign. We already heard about the kiosks that the Smithsonian Museum in Washington will put up, the ocean kiosks as part of the new major Ocean Hall opening in September. And our government will coordinate marine-debris outreach programs for Earth Day 2008.

The centerpiece, though, of this initiative will be our country's Coastal Ecosystem Learning Centers that we just talked about. These centers form a network of 20 aquariums, museum and research facilities, and they include the most prestigious marine facilities in our country, including, of course, the J.L. Scott Marine Education Center here in Southern Mississippi, and congratulations to all of you.

This designation recognizes the J.L. Scott Center's proud tradition of marine education. They'll now be one of the centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence in the United States. They actually have already served as one of the 10.

The Scott Center's accomplishments are even more impressive considering the toll Hurricane Katrina took on the center, and I think you all have heard that. Even as the Scott Center thrives in its temporary location, the staff are very determined to rebuild, as we heard, and I want to wish you the very best on that and hope you can rebuild very quickly.

"Jake" Scott, J.L. Scott, that this center is named for, loved the oceans, and I wanted you to know that his daughter, Lisa Scott Magee, is here with us. (Applause.) Thank you so much, Lisa.

Thanks to each of you for your stewardship of our ocean and for making sure that their treasures can be enjoyed for every succeeding generation. In the meantime, I urge people here on the Gulf Coast and across our whole country to join these conservation efforts; volunteer for beach cleanup; get involved in public policy discussions about the sustainable, responsible development of our coast; reuse plastics; only buy plastics that are recyclable or reuse the ones that you've got. These efforts will preserve a cleaner, healthier ocean for everybody.

Now I'd like to introduce an outstanding steward of our oceans and of our natural resources, the Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne. (Applause.)

END 12:47 P.M. CDT

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