Jack Dunnigan is the Assistant Administrator for NOAA’s National Ocean Service.

Thank you for that kind introduction and to the Conference Steering Committee for your invitation to speak. And thank you to our host, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

I applaud you both for demonstrating courageous leadership and innovation with the development and implementation of the 1st International Conference for Marine Mammal Protected Areas.

I’m here today representing NOAA. And as many of you know, we are a federal science agency whose reach extends from the depths of the ocean floor to the surface of the sun. Our programs touch and enrich the lives of Americans everyday as we work to keep citizens informed of the changing environment around them.

I must share with you that this is very exciting time at NOAA, as our new Administrator, Dr. Jane Lubchenco was sworn in this week. And without reading her entire biography, let me say that her impeccable credentials and professional background would be reason enough to be thrilled with her arrival. She also has a strong national reputation as a scientist, with a strong conviction that good science should drive our decisions to support good government. I’ve been in a couple of meetings with her already and in each case she has mentioned the importance of being aware of how humans are effecting ecosystems world-wide. Despite the many challenges we are facing as an agency and a country, there is a noticeable optimism and enthusiasm as our new leadership team comes into place.

Speaking of new leaders, you may have heard that former Washington Governor Gary Locke has been confirmed as the new Secretary of Commerce. This too is great news for NOAA. Secretary Locke comes from an active coastal state which is very familiar with issues like coastal pollution, fisheries, and the importance healthy natural resources have on the economy.

In these challenging economic times we must remember that activities along the coasts are a driving force of a healthy U.S. economy. Tourism, the movement of goods in and out of our ports, and commercial and recreational fishing are major contributors to our economic well being. It is our duty to find a balance between man and nature for future generations.

I am the Assistant Administrator of the National Ocean Service, whose role is one of stewardship of the America’s coastal areas. Right now, we are on a mission to spread the word and educate the public about the importance of preserving and protecting our coastal waters and shoreline and the creatures that inhabit those same waters.

With millions of people using our beaches and coastal areas every year, issues such as beach erosion, restoration of wetlands, the health of our ocean, and the quality of our water must be in the national focus. Along with this is the responsibility to protect and manage the habitat of creatures like the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal, the majestic Humpback Whale and other magnificent cetaceans.

As you view the beautiful ocean surrounding these islands outside our doors, you are also looking at the waters of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.  It’s appropriate that the sanctuary hosts this first meeting of global marine mammal protected area managers, since Hawaii is believed to have the largest seasonal population of humpback whales anywhere in the world.

In the sixteen years since the sanctuary was first designated, we have seen the number of whales coming to Hawaii each year grow to 10-12 thousand. They travel from the North Pacific, where they feed, to what we consider their “home” in the sanctuary: the only place in the United States where humpback whales mate, calf and nurse.  It’s been said that if Alaska is their kitchen, Hawaii is the humpbacks’ bedroom and nursery. I look forward to seeing some of these creatures swimming joyously along the coast of our wonderful meeting spot here in Maui.

This conference is a great example of how partnerships between organizations worldwide can meet, bringing together industry, academics, and government at the local and national level to overcome challenges facing our marine environment and improve our quality of life. Let me again express my thanks to the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale NMS for being the driving force behind developing a way to provide the perfect location for you, more than 200 managers, scientist, government and representatives from non- governmental organizations traveling from 40 countries! What a great opportunity to meet and network.

We need to spread the word about how stewardship and conservation of natural resources benefits all of us. Keeping in mind there are over 500 existing or proposed Marine Protected Areas, better known as MPAs, for marine mammals, in some 90 countries around the World. It is hard to believe there has never been a dedicated venue for or gathering of marine mammal and MPA experts with the intent of sharing common challenges and solutions. Congratulations to you all for taking the steps necessary to make a change happen.

Our goal is to ensure that ocean and coastal areas are safe, healthy and productive. NOAA brings many important things to this partnership.

· We protect and restore coastal habitats

· We monitor legislative activity providing for protection of marine mammals

· We map and chart our ports and coastal waters to ensure safe navigation and work with our partners ensuring communication flows

· We are increasing our ability to respond to health risks in our coastal areas by providing early-warning systems and water quality forecasts benefiting human users as well as those living in underwater environments.

· At the National Ocean Service, we protect and preserve our ocean and coastal resources through our National Marine Sanctuary system.

· We have experience in managing a system of marine protected areas including in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary within the Pacific Region.

· NOAA’s National Marine Protected Areas Center is developing a National System of MPAs, providing an opportunity to identify and establish networks of MPAs that are ecologically connected

· The National System of MPAs will focus on specified goals and priority conservation objectives such as conserving key reproduction areas and nursery grounds, and conserving key areas for migratory species.

· As a community of people preserving our marine mammal protected areas, NOAA will continue to share information and work across international boundaries to keep our seas free of debris thus reducing impacts to our living marine resources.

· Our National Marine Fisheries Service is developing a strategic plan to guide its efforts to work with other nations to protect and conserve marine mammals internationally.

· Regionally, NOAA Fisheries is working to protect Hawaiian spinner dolphin near shore resting habitats and are exploring critical habitat designation for the endangered monk seal.

I guess you could say that NOAA is constantly “taking the pulse of the planet” to help ensure vibrant and healthy oceans, coasts, and underwater sea creatures. We are happy to use our unique skills and abilities in partnership with the global marine mammal community of experts to help preserve and protect these national treasures and our overall environment for future generations.

In closing let me say that from November to May you can see Hawaii’s humpback whales from both land and sea—right out these windows.  Viewing humpback whales in Hawaii is truly a unique experience – there is no other place like it in the world.

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary works to provide protection from known threats like vessel collisions and entanglements and the emerging threats of climate change, marine debris and ocean pollution.

National marine sanctuaries are special places and the Hawaii sanctuary is no exception. It is the only sanctuary in the National Marine Sanctuary System designated to protect a single species. We are eager to share our successes and challenges in managing this protected area, and eager to learn from the many experts invited here today in collaborative sessions throughout the conference.

Thanks again to the conference organizers, Mayor Charmaine Tavares and Donna Petrachenko for the opportunity to join this momentous occasion marking the very first International Conference for Marine Mammal Protected areas. We can address meaningful challenges with sound science, innovation and creative partnerships, I urge you to take full advantage of this forum by sharing information on approaches to marine mammal management and conservation.

Thank you very much.