American historian and writer Wallace Stegner as "the best idea we ever had." Yet, it took 100 years from the designation of Yellowstone National Park to apply the same idea to our special ocean places.
Thankfully, in 1972, Congress passed the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act, later named the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, and established the National Marine Sanctuaries System. On Tuesday, communities across the country will celebrate its 40th anniversary.
What are they celebrating? Coordinated stewardship and management of more than 150,000 square miles of ocean and coastal habitats estimated to generate $4 billion annually in local economies and supporting approximately 50,000 jobs.
Still, some argue against sanctuaries, for fear of losing fishing access. However, sanctuary designation does not equate to no fishing. Each year in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary alone, 600 commercial fishing vessels contribute $33.2 million in total commercial landings. This translates to $20.9 million in income and 441 jobs in the local economy.
In Hawaii, we have two sanctuaries to celebrate: the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, designated in 1992; and the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, designated in 2006.
Our humpback whale sanctuary was established to protect humpback whales and their habitat in Hawaii. When international hunting of humpback whales was banned in 1966, fewer than 1,400 of these majestic animals were thought to remain. A recent census revealed that the northern Pacific humpback population has rebounded to nearly 20,000 whales.
This matters to our economy. During the seasonal winter migration of humpbacks to our waters, the whale-watching industry contributes up to $11 million in annual revenues with a total economic impact of up to $74 million per year.
Still not convinced our ocean matters? Consider the fact that more than 80 percent of Hawaii's visitors participate in ocean recreation activities. A study sponsored by the Hawaii Coral Reef Initiative determined that Hawaii's nearshore reefs alone generate $800 million in gross revenues.
But this is about more than protecting tourism and jobs. This is about safeguarding our natural and cultural heritage, a way of life for those who call Hawaii home. It is the ocean which most defines our island way of life. It is our kuleana, our collective responsibility, to safeguard the ocean and all that it provides. We must act with urgency to be better stewards.
On this anniversary, I urge you to support our local sanctuaries. Participate in programs, volunteer your time, make a contribution and advocate on their behalf.
Hawaii's sanctuaries are also strengthened through their partnership with the nationwide network of sanctuaries administered by the National Marine Sanctuary Program.
As much as we like to separate ourselves from the Mainland, we are connected by one ocean. We must work together if we are to address threats that span ocean basins and extend beyond local jurisdiction.
How can we make a difference beyond our shores? We can advocate for more of these special places. It has been 12 years since the last designation of a new national marine sanctuary in the U.S., whereas in the previous 12 years seven new sanctuaries were formed.
But the process must be transparent. It is critical to consider new sites through a public, participatory process. For that to happen, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration must reactivate its site evaluation list and revise the process to formally consider sites for sanctuary designation.
I call upon on our community and our country to protect, engage, enjoy and invest in these ocean jewels, our national marine sanctuaries. Your time, voice and dollars are needed to ensure that marine sanctuaries continue to protect our special ocean places and way of life in Hawaii and beyond.
* Lynette Poncin is the chairwoman of the Hawai'i National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. She lives in Kihei.