THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
26 , 2000
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON PROTECTING THE OCEANS
North Ocean Beach
Assateague Island, Maryland
2:07 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first, I want to thank all of our
previous speakers. As so often happens when I get up to speak, what
needs to be said has already been said.
Thank you, Carolyn Cummins, for your kind words and for
your years and years of leadership, for Assateague Island and for these
beaches. I want to thank the Park Superintendent, Mark Koenings. This
is his last week here, because he has just gotten a new assignment at
the Gateway National Recreation Area in New York Harbor, a place I've
gotten a little more interested in, in the last few months. (Laughter.)
So he's got a very good assignment, and I wish him well. (Applause.)
I want to thank Sylvia Earle, the Explorer-In-Residence
at National Geographic -- and, in a way, an explorer in residence for
the American citizens, as you just heard. I want to thank also the National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrator Jim Baker and Deputy Secretary
of the Interior David Haynes, who are here.
And I'd also like to recognize the elected officials,
particularly the Maryland delegation from the United States Congress,
who have been just terrific on these environmental issues -- Senator
Barbara Mikulski. Thank you, Senator. (Applause.) She came dressed to
spend the day here. I hope she does. (Laughter.)
I want to thank Senator Paul Sarbanes for being here.
(Applause.) When I came up, he said, you know, this is my part of Maryland.
And my mother is here, and she is celebrating her 92nd birthday. So
welcome to Mrs. Sarbanes, we're glad to see you. (Applause.) Thank you.
Give her a hand. That's great. (Applause.) She's also got the coolest
sunglasses of anybody here, I might add. (Laughter.)
I'd like to thank Representatives Wayne Gilchrest, to
my left, and Ben Cardin to my right for being here. (Applause.) And
I'd like to recognize a guest from all the way across the country, Representative
Sam Farr from northern California. He represents the district where
Monterey Bay is, where we had our oceans conference two years ago, and
he's a great friend of the environment. Thank you, Sam Farr, for being
I'd also like to thank the mayors, the council members,
the state legislators who met me here. And I'd like to recognize Carl
Zimmerman, the chief of research management of the Assateague National
Island Seashore, for your work. Thank you all for being here. (Applause.)
Well, I came down here today to get ahead of the Memorial
Day rush. (Laughter.) And I didn't want all of you who wanted to sit
here to be lost in the stampede of fun-seekers. But I thank you for
coming. We all know that this weekend marks the opening of the summer
beach season, and by the millions Americans will flock to our coastlines.
Beachlines and coastlines are now our number one tourist destination.
Our oceans, however, are far more than a playground.
They have a central effect on the weather, on our climate system. Through
fishing, tourism and other industries, ocean resources -- listen to
this -- support one out of every six jobs in the United States of America.
Coral reefs and coastal waters are a storehouse of biodiversity. Think
about what children here -- and we have some children here from Bennett
Middle School I met on the way down. And just think about what they
see and learn about the timeless movement of the dunes, about the complex
life of a coastal marsh -- horseshoe crabs, living fossils whose blood
provides us a vital antibacterial agent. And I learned today that 5,000
years ago, this island was several miles out in the ocean, brought back
closer to shore by the rising of the sea level, something which is okay
in small doses, but could be very troubling for us if we don't deal
with the problem of climate change, global warming, the melting of the
icecaps and the alarming level at which ocean levels could rise.
Even though they cover -- yes, you can clap for that.
(Applause.) You have to forgive me; when I give these kinds of talks,
I veer off the script a little bit. Oceans cover more than 70 percent
of the earth's surface. They are immensely powerful, as anybody who
has ever been caught in an undertow can tell you. But they are also
very, very fragile. Poisonous runoff from the Mississippi River alone
has created a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that is as large as the
state of New Jersey.
Here in Maryland, runoff threatens fish and crabs in
the Chesapeake Bay. Globally, already, people have destroyed 10 percent
of the world's coral reefs. Another 20 percent are in grave peril.
I saw the changes when I went snorkeling five years ago
off the Great Barrier reefs in Australia. And I read just last week,
as the challenge is now presented, the second largest barrier reefs
in the world, off the coast of Belize. Global warming, as I said, is
helping to raise the ocean temperatures to record highs, changing weather
patterns, killing coral reefs, driving species from their habitat.
When I was with Sam Farr two years ago in Monterey Bay,
I went out into the bay with some young researchers from the Stanford
center that's there. And they pointed out some small ocean organisms
that just 50 years ago were 20 miles to the south. Minuscule organisms
that move that far in 50 years.
Over the last seven years, we've tried to change as much
of this as we could -- protecting millions of acres of forests and open
space; showing we can clean up our environment and grow the economy
at the same time. But we need to do more with our seas and our coasts.
The old idea that we can only grow by putting more pollution into our
lakes and rivers and oceans must finally be put to rest. Indeed, it
is now clear that we can grow our economy faster over the long run by
improving our environment, and it's really not enough for us just to
try to keep it as it is. We have to do better. (Applause.)
I want to say, on behalf of Vice President Gore, as well
as myself, that we are grateful for the opportunities we've had to do
this work -- grateful for the chance that we had to host the Oceans
Conference in Monterey in 1998 -- and Hillary and Tipper were there,
too; we had a wonderful day. Last year, the Vice President issued our
one-year update, and we're going to try to put out a report every year.
I hope that in successive years presidents will do the same.
As has been said, we have quadrupled funding for national
marine sanctuaries. We have new funding to rebuild our threatened fisheries.
We extended a moratorium on offshore oil leases for oil and gas drilling
through 2012. We've been an international leader in efforts to protect
whales and other endangered species. But we have to do more.
Today, I want to announce two important initiatives that
I believe will help to ensure that our oceans are places of delight
and learning for generations to come. First, I am signing an executive
order to create a national system to preserve our coasts, reefs, underwater
forests and other treasures, directing the Commerce and Interior Departments
to work together to create a network of marine protected areas -- encompassing
pristine beaches, mysterious deep-water trenches, and every kind of
marine habitat. This executive order directs NOAA to develop a single
framework to manage our national network wisely. (Applause.)
We intend to establish ecological reserves in the most
fragile areas to keep them off-limits to fishing, drilling and other
damaging uses. I'm also directing the EPA to strengthen water quality
standards all along our coasts, and provide stronger protections for
the most vulnerable ocean waters, to reduce pollution of beaches, coasts
Second, I'm announcing today our commitment to permanently protect coral
reefs of the northwest Hawaiian Islands. If you've ever been there,
you know why we should. (Applause.) These eight islands are not, all
of them, so well-known, but they stretch over 1,200 miles. They shelter
more than 60 percent of America's coral reefs. They're home to plants
and animals found nowhere else on earth, and to highly endangered species,
including leatherback turtles and monk seals.
I'm directing the Departments of Interior and Commerce
to develop in the next 90 days a comprehensive plan to protect the reefs,
working with state and regional authorities and making sure the people
of Hawaii also have a voice at the table. It is in our national interest
to do this, and it should not be a partisan issue. On more than one
occasion, Representative Gilchrest has supported our environmental initiatives,
and I thank you, sir, for that. It should not be a Republican or a Democratic
I sent a budget this year to the Congress to provide
significant new resources to fight climate change and air and water
pollution. My Lands Legacy Initiative would provide record funding to
protect our lands and costs. I think the leadership in Congress is swimming
against the tide. Because they've proposed a budget that would cut funding
for critical environmental priorities. A House committee has slashed
Lands Legacy by 75 percent. And once again, the majority is loading
up the budget bills with anti-environmental riders that would cripple
the new national monuments I created earlier this year, surrender our
public lands to private interests, and undermine our efforts to protect
water resources and combat global warming.
Already in this year of rather hot election rhetoric
-- you may have noticed there's an election this year -- (laughter)
-- there have been commitments to roll back the efforts I have taken
to create 43 million roadless acres in our national forests. We need
to have a clear, national, bipartisan consensus at the grassroots level:
that we don't need these riders, and we do need a national commitment
to the environment. (Applause.)
For thousands of years, oceans and beaches have stirred
the human imagination. Today, ocean depths offer hopes for medicine
and science. They still stir the curious child in all of us. I said
in my State of the Union address that I though in the next few years,
we would not only decode the human genome and find cures for various
kinds of cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes; we would also find
out what's in the black holes in the universe. But we are also going
to find out what's in the darkest depths of our oceans. And what we
find out may save hundreds of thousands of people. (Applause.)
Forty-five years ago, Rachel Carson wrote from her Maryland
home that the sea "keeps alive the sense of continuing creation,
and of the relentless drive of life... In the sea nothing lives to itself...the
present is linked with past and future, and each living thing with all
that surrounds it." If we could all think that about each other,
and our community -- that we do not live to ourselves, that we are linked
to the past and the future, and that everything that happens requires
a due consideration for all that surrounds it -- then America would
have its greatest days in the new millennium.
Thank you very much, and God bless you. (Applause.)
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