Turn ocean into a park

At Assateague, Clinton notes need for marine preserve

`More than a playground'

Environmentalists praise initiative as `important step'

Clinton calls for system of marine sanctuaries

May 27, 2000|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

ASSATEAGUE ISLAND - President Clinton announced yesterday an initiative to protect and clean up the nation's oceans and beaches, at least partly by creating "marine protected areas" in federal waters similar to the system of national parks.

In a ceremony on this Atlantic Ocean beach at the beginning of the first holiday weekend of the summer, he said he has ordered the departments of Commerce and Interior to develop the system of sanctuaries to protect "pristine beaches, mysterious deep water trenches and every kind of marine habitat."

In addition, he has ordered the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to develop a national framework for managing the protected areas and the Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen marine water quality standards and establish stronger protection for environmentally sensitive areas.

He also has ordered the agencies to develop within 90 days a plan to protect Pacific island reefs.

Beaches have become America's No. 1 tourist destination, he said, but the oceans "are far more than a playground." They affect the weather and, through fishing, tourism and other industries, support "one out of every six jobs in the United States," he said.

The executive orders are among several Clinton has issued over the years on environmental matters. The most recent, issued last year, was to protect millions of acres of national forest.

The orders, which could be revoked by one of Clinton's successors, allow the president to sidestep Congress on certain issues, such as environmental regulations.

Protecting the oceans "should not be a partisan issue," Clinton said yesterday, taking a swipe at congressional Republicans. "I think the leadership in Congress is swimming against the tide."

The order, which could lead to some beaches and stretches of open ocean being placed off limits to fishing and oil drilling, drew praise from environmental groups as an "important step toward protecting our oceans."

"We have set aside more than 200 million acres of wilderness and national parks to provide sanctuaries for wildlife and ourselves," said John Adams, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But we have until now neglected our oceans."

Only 1 percent of the ocean within U.S. jurisdiction now qualifies as marine protected areas, and only about 10 percent of that area is afforded the highest level of protection. The best known is in the Western Sambo Reserve of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. In the first two years that "no take" provisions were in effect in that area, fish and lobster populations increased rapidly.

NOAA Administrator James Baker said the president's order will give his agency the opportunity to create a framework for ocean protection. "We have different protected marine areas, but no overall plan," he said. "What this does is makes sure we have the authority to put this together in a coordinated fashion."

Baker said the plans would take shape after scientific research and monitoring.

But Jack Sobel, director of ecosystem protection for the Center for Marine Conservation in Washington, worried the limits would come too late.

"We think research and monitoring is important, but we need something to research and monitor," he said. "Until some areas are closed off, we don't know whether the habitat's changing."

But the idea of closing areas to commercial fishing angered Freeland Mason, past president of the Virginia Watermen's Association.

"The whole world is against watermen and now you have the world plus the president," said Mason, who lives in nearby Kilmarnock, Va. "The conservationists want to cut out all commercial fishing. They don't want any fishing except by hook and line. The waterman is an endangered species these days."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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