A Big Week for Sea Life

A wave of good news lifted marine conservation and research this week. President Clinton today ordered federal agencies to develop a new network of marine reserves along U.S. coasts. The move came a few days after The Pew Charitable Trusts established a high-profile oceans commission that supporters hope will energize efforts to study and protect the sea.

In his appearance on a sun-dappled beach at the Assateague Island National Seashore in Virginia, Clinton outlined a new executive order that seeks to protect a bigger portion of the coastal shelf from fishing, drilling, and other activities. Currently, less than 1% of the United State's vast coastal territory is protected within a dozen marine sanctuaries and other wildlife refuges or parks (Science, 25 July 1997, p. 489). To boost the total, Clinton ordered the Interior and Commerce Departments to come up with a plan for designating and managing an integrated system of protected areas. For starters, he wants better safeguards for 12,000 square kilometers of coral reefs in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, home to nearly 70% of U.S. reefs. "I can't think of a better way to begin the first summer of the new century," said Elliott Norse, president of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Redmond, Washington, one leader of a push to increase U.S. protected waters to 20% of the total by 2015.

The new Pew Commission on Oceans, to be led by New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman and packed with political and business heavyweights, aims to guide government policy. The new panel, says Carl Safina of the National Audubon Society in New York City, has a chance to take a "clear, cold look at what's needed and what is appropriate now--and that's long overdue." The commission's first meeting will be in July, with a final report due in 2002.