I’m no fan of George W. Bush, for reasons too many to list. But I have to give credit where credit is due, and the recent White House decision to create a new marine reserve in Hawaii deserves a round of applause. In fact, I hope our own federal government is paying close attention.
Vol. 7 No. 40
June 21, 2006
by David Suzuki
The new marine sanctuary is the world’s largest. It protects the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, an area of dozens of tiny uninhabited islands and atolls beginning 250 kilometers north of the island of Kauai and stretching 2,000 kilometres across the Pacific Ocean.
It’s an area of superlatives, home to more than 7,000 marine and land-based species, 25 per cent of which are found nowhere else (including the endangered Hawaiian monk seal), 90 per cent of the nesting area of the popular, and threatened, green sea turtle, and 70 per cent of the United States’ total tropical, shallow-water coral.
And it’s huge – at 340,000 square kilometers – larger than all of America’s national parks combined. Of course, the vast majority of this area is water, but it’s water teeming with life. That life is what makes the area special for protection – but also why it was being threatened in the first place.
Once home to thriving fisheries, mismanagement has pushed many stocks to the brink of extinction. Black-lipped pearl oysters, for example, were wiped out in the first half of the 20th century. And in the 1980s and 1990s, fishermen pulled an estimated 12 million lobsters from these waters, resulting in a complete collapse of the fishery and threatening the survival of the monk seal that depends on lobster for food.
With the area now protected by a ban on commercial fishing and other industrial activities, there is a chance it can recover. Since coral reefs act as nurseries for fish, this protection will also help improve commercial and recreational fishing in the areas around the reserve by providing a place for fish to safely breed and grow. It also offers refuge for species on the edge of extinction, like the monk seal.
Where is Canada at with marine reserves? Well, Canada has the longest coastline of any nation in the world. Yet we protect a tiny fraction of it.
We too have areas of superlatives. On the West Coast, the Queen Charlotte Basin is known as the “Galapagos of the North,” home to dozens of species of marine mammal, over 400 species of fish, hundreds of species of birds,
and thousands of species of invertebrates.
Like Hawaii, Canada has had its share of fisheries mismanagement. We’ve tended to assume fish are plentiful until they are gone. We’ve ignored damage to fish habitat or downplayed the impact of industry. We’ve allowed
destructive types of fishing to continue, in spite of a wealth of scientific evidence showing the damage they cause.
But we too have the opportunity to protect our oceans, our shorelines and our marine life. Right now, our Department of Fisheries and Oceans is badly underfunded and in need of reform. We need better coordination between the federal government and the provinces and we need to get serious about conserving our sea life for future generations.
Part of any comprehensive strategy to do that will involve marine protected areas. Hawaii’s new marine reserve sets a new standard that shows what can be accomplished through science and political will. Right now, Canada is falling behind and failing to protect one of our greatest assets. I hate to say it, but this is one time we could learn something from George W. Bush.