Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Trash soils Bush pledge to protect islands
Updated 8/8/2008 1:00 AM | |
Marine debris washes up on Kamilo Beach, Hawaii. A marine debris problem persists across the Hawaiian archipelago, though President Bush had pledged to make the islands our cleanest ocean environment.
By Carey Morishige, AP
Marine debris washes up on Kamilo Beach, Hawaii. A marine debris problem persists across the Hawaiian archipelago, though President Bush had pledged to make the islands our cleanest ocean environment.

WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 Bush has cut his budget request by 80%.

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, meanwhile, 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.

Bush now wants an extra $100,000 for removing the smorgasbord of lighters, plastic bottles, refrigerators and fishing nets that litter the islands' beaches and get snagged on its reefs. But the total amount he would spend in 2009 is still only about 25% 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, president of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Washington state. "Unfortunately in recent years the U.S. has not made picking up trash in our most special places in the ocean a priority."

"We are collecting less," acknowledged Steve Thur, acting coral program director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which manages the monument with the state of Hawaii and Fish and Wildlife Service.

Thur said the administration's budget requests were based on a faulty annual debris accumulation estimate of 28 tons. New research has shown double that amount floats into the monument each year.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, said that while 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.

Inouye had had concerns about the area becoming a monument because of fishing restrictions and no public participation in the process. 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.

The combination of currents, remote location and a plethora of endangered species make marine debris in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands arguably the worst ocean trash problem in the world. Circular currents funnel trash from all over the Pacific Ocean to the islands as if they were a drain in a gigantic sink.

Garbage collection began on a haphazard basis in 1996. It wasn't until 2002 that the federal government got involved and began dedicating significant resources to the cleanup of debris in the area. To date, more than $12 million has been spent and 646 tons of marine debris have been removed.

Most of the work is done in the water, where specially trained divers carefully collect fishing nets and other junk tangled on the shallow reefs, raise it to the surface with lift bags and haul it to shore by boat. The nets are burned for energy, the plastic is recycled.

A NOAA ship with a crew of 16, including researchers from the University of Hawaii, and a couple of Coast Guard cutters each undertake one or two cleanup operations a year, lasting from 15 to 30 days. Before the funding cutbacks, contracted vessels and crews were also deployed in cleanups lasting up to 90 days.

The administration's lack of follow-through hasn't stopped environmentalists from lobbying the president to designate more monuments before leaving office, a step the White House is considering. Declaring an area a national marine monument effectively stops commercial fishing and oil drilling.

Bush's latest budget seems to recognize that more is necessary. The administration has requested $4.6 million for marine debris efforts nationwide next year, acknowledging the "additional cleanup and prevention resources are needed to protect this Marine National Monument."

Drafts of regulations that will guide the monument's management also recognize a need for more funding but say elimination of debris is virtually impossible.

Barry Christensen, who as manager of the wildlife refuge on Midway Atoll is one of the monument's few human inhabitants, says the added protections could do some good — by raising the level of awareness about the problem and helping to change people's habits.

"It's asking a lot for a monument proclamation to do that, but you have to start some place," he said in an interview from Hawaii. "We can pick up plastic off the beach from now until the end of time, but unless people stop putting it in the ocean our problem will never go away."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Here's a little piece about Bush And Whales

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Supreme Court Limits Protection for Whales from Navy Sonar
Four measures to safeguard marine mammals remain in place

WASHINGTON, DC (November 12, 2008) – Today, the nation’s highest court issued its decision regarding the Navy’s use of mid-frequency active sonar during training exercises in southern California.

"The Supreme Court held that the lower courts did not properly balance the competing interests at stake, and struck down two significant safeguards that reduce harm to whales from high-intensity sonar training,” said Joel Reynolds, senior attorney and director of NRDC’s marine mammal program. “The decision places marine mammals at greater risk of serious and needless harm. However it is a narrow ruling that leaves in place four of the injunction’s six safeguards. It is significant that the court did not overturn the underlying determination that the Navy likely violated the law by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement.”

"It is gratifying that the court did not accept the Navy’s expansive claims of executive power, and that two thirds of the injunction remains intact,” said Richard Kendall, NRDC co-counsel.

The Navy acknowledges that sonar can be deadly to marine mammals, and that the exercises at issue would “take” an estimated 170,000 marine mammals, including causing permanent injury to more than 500 whales and temporary deafness to at least 8,000 whales.


In January, the White House issued exemptions to the Navy after a federal court ordered the Navy to safeguard marine mammals against harm from high-intensity, mid-frequency active sonar being used in a series of exercises off southern California.

In March, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court mitigation measures, requiring the Navy to maintain a 12 nautical mile no-sonar buffer zone along the California coastline; to avoid other key whale habitat; to shut down sonar when marine mammals are spotted within 2,200 yards; and to monitor for marine mammals using various methods. The Navy appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on two of the six measures, the 2,200 yard MFA sonar shutdown and power down during surface ducting conditions.

More than one year ago, the California Coastal Commission urged the Navy to adopt similar protective measures during these exercises, finding them necessary to bring the maneuvers into compliance with California’s coastal laws, but the Navy ignored the commission’s request, relying instead on a mitigation scheme that the lower court found “woefully inadequate and ineffectual.”

High-intensity MFA sonar can blast vast areas of the oceans with dangerous levels of underwater noise, and has killed marine mammals in numerous incidents around the world. Many scientists believe that animals seen stranded on the beach represent only a small part of the technology’s toll, given that severely injured animals would rarely come to shore. The waters off southern California have some of the richest marine habitat in the country, and include five endangered species of whales, a globally important population of blue whales, the largest animal ever to live on earth, and as many as seven individual species of beaked whales, which are known to be particularly vulnerable to underwater sound.

The lawsuit was brought by a coalition of conservation organizations led by NRDC, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the League for Coastal Protection, Cetacean Society International, and Ocean Futures Society and its president and founder Jean-Michel Cousteau. A related lawsuit challenging the Navy’s actions was brought by the State of California on behalf of the California Coastal Commission.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.2 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing.

Related NRDC Webpages:
Protecting Whales from Dangerous Sonar

Related NRDC Documents:
NRDC's Brief for Respondents in U.S. Supreme Court Sonar Case