updated 11:21 a.m. PT, Fri., Aug. 8, 2008
WASHINGTON - 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 percent.
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.