Magazine article Sunset

The Hawaii No One Knows: Beyond Kauai Stretch Hidden Islands, Coral Reefs-And Our Newest National Monument

Magazine article Sunset

The Hawaii No One Knows: Beyond Kauai Stretch Hidden Islands, Coral Reefs-And Our Newest National Monument

Article excerpt

DAWN LIGHT ILLUMINATES the dunes of Barking Sands beach, the westernmost point on Kauai, which is the northernmost island in the main Hawaiian chain. The Holo Holo, a 65-foot catamaran, slices the jewel blue sea at an easy 20 knots.

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Captain Chris Bane shouts, "We've got visitors!" and 30 passengers rush to glimpse the dark backs and darting dorsal fins of dolphins, which close in around the catamaran like a motorcade. "These are spinner dolphins," says Captain Chris, and, as if on cue, one of the turbocharged mammals shoots into the air and executes an aerial maneuver that would inspire any Olympic high diver to retire his Speedo forever. You'd think this spot would be the living end of the Hawaii experience--and for nearly everyone but travelers aboard this boat, it is. Holo Holo is the only commercial snorkel-tour boat that makes a daily practice of leaving the main Hawaiian Islands. As the catamaran turns to port and aims its twin hulls at the open sea, it touches the threshold of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, the nation's newest--established this June--and most remote national marine monument.

The NWHI reserve is unique in that it is huge--100 times larger than Yosemite and bigger than 46 of the 50 states--and that it is mostly underwater. Longer than the distance from Chicago to Miami and 100 miles wide, it contains 10 uninhabited islands, more than 100 atolls, 4,500 square miles of coral reef habitat, and more than 7,000 marine species, a quarter of which exist only there. The pristine habitat of the Hawaiian monk seal (endangered), the green sea turtle (threatened), and vast colonies of terns, boobies, and other seabirds, NWHI constitutes such a global marine treasure that many scientists have taken to calling it "the rain forest of the sea."

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"This is a virtually unexplored part of the world," says Jean-Michel Cousteau. Son of famed explorer Jacques, and founder and president of the Ocean Futures Society, he travels the world to urge respect for marine ecology. In April 2006 he went to the White House to show a documentary film he had made about the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. His audience included President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle, various senators, and representatives of the Department of the Interior, the Coast Guard, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). "At the end of the screening," says Cousteau, "the president stood up, turned to the audience, and said, 'Get it done!' Those were the words I wanted to hear."

The president's June 15 proclamation of NWHI as a national marine monument cut through legislative proceedings that might have dragged on for a year. Afterward, NOAA head Conrad C. Lautenbacher called this decision "the single largest act of ocean conservation in history."

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The designation will promote scientific research in NWHI and preserve access for native Hawaiian cultural uses. It will ban commercial and recreational fishing (to be phased out over five years) and continue to forbid the dumping of waste, especially fishing gear. …

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