There's been a lot of media attention in recent weeks to President's Bush's claiming his environmental credentials in naming three new marine national monuments in the Pacific, but few remember that President Teddy Roosevelt went there first.
Long before it was the popular thing to do.
And a century earlier.
(Image: A fairy tern nests in an old ironwood tree at Midway Atoll. Photo: Jan TenBruggencate.)
One hundred years ago, Roosevelt established the Hawaiian Islands Reservation, protecting the reefs and birdlife of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands—that more than 1,000 miles of islands, shoals and reefs that extend west-northwest of Kaua'i and Ni'ihau.
The reservation eventually became a national wildlife refuge and later part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The specks of land in this region of the Pacific are, from east to west, Nihoa Island, Necker or Mokumanamana Island, French Frigate Shoals, Gardner Pinnacles, Maro Reef, Laysan Island, Lisianski Island, Pearl and Hermes Atoll, Midway Atoll and Kure Atoll.
Millions of seabirds breed and roost on these islands. Their reefs and sandbars are home to breakthtaking arrays of marine life, many species unique in the world.
The history of the place is mysterious, sad, tragic and uplifting. Early Hawaiians lived here and left plenty of archaeological records, but they had abandoned the islands by the time of Roosevelt's declaration.
Dozens of shipwrecks are have been located here, dating back to the whaling days of the early 1800s. Feather collectors slaughtered tens of thousands of seabirds—one of the reasons Roosevelt acted to protect the place. Ill-considered introductions of alien species like rabbits wiped out much of the native life on land.
There are stories galore.
“I still remember working in what is now the contact station – the small building next to the lighthouse – waiting for radio calls with Tern Island,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staffer Noreen Bautista. “We worked in shifts, and often had contact only at night. During the summers we also talked with crews working on Laysan Island.”
In a press release issued by the service, its superintendent for the Papahānaumokuākea monument credited Roosevelt.
“This centennial offers us an opportunity to celebrate the many years of conservation that have preceded us and the current work ongoing within the Monument to protect its natural and cultural resources, as well as to look toward the future. We are honoring the foresight of President Roosevelt in setting aside this remarkable place, and we are acknowledging our responsibility and privilege to inspire future generations to continue that mission.”
©2009 Jan TenBruggencate