20 Years of Ocean Protection: Introduction

On December 4, 2000, President William Jefferson Clinton created the single largest nature preserve ever established in the United States. Calling the designation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve (NWHICRER) “a bold and visionary action,” President Clinton recognized the work of an unprecedented coalition of government agencies, conservation groups and concerned citizens for, “a big step forward, not only for the U.S., but for oceans around the world.” The NWHICRER provided the strongest level of protections for the ocean ever enacted, and in the words of then President Clinton, “Set a new global standard for coral reef and wildlife protection.”

President Clinton called the NWHICRER “The Yellowstone of the Sea,” and in 2000 considered the creation of the coral reef ecosystem reserve an important step on the road with much, much, more work ahead. Fast forward two decades and the list of protections, recognitions, and new discoveries; along with the sophistication of cooperative-ecosystem based management to protect the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is astounding.

The NWHICRER, which continues to exist as a political entity was overlaid by the creation of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, by President George W. Bush in 2006. Covering nearly 140 thousand square miles, the protection and management of Papahānaumokuākea continues to focus on saving coral reefs – the rain forests of the sea – for their protective qualities and as places of beauty and bounty. Beginning with more than 1000 comments from concerned citizens leading up to the designation of the NWHICRER; hundreds of professional conservation managers, citizen volunteers and advisors, scientists and researchers, political and non-profit leaders in consort with the continuing, cooperative federal-state management of the marine and terrestrial features of Papahānaumokuākea help ensure protection in perpetuity.

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve celebrates 20 years of ocean protection with a commitment to preserve and protect the delicate region, the critical heritage values of the sea and to further the global understanding of the importance of protecting the ocean.