Friday, June 17, 2016

Expand Papahānaumokuākea Coalition Supports Senator Schatz Proposal

Today, Native Hawaiians leading the effort to expand the boundaries of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM) voiced their support for the proposal announced by Senator Brian Schatz to create the largest marine protected area in the world. The timing coincides with the 10-year anniversary of the Monument’s original designation by President George W. Bush on June 15, 2006.

"The Cultural Working Group (CWG) thanks Senator Schatz for his leadership and supports this proposal, which gives maximum ecological and cultural protection while supporting small boat fishermen," said Kekuewa Kikiloi, chair of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Native Hawaiian Working Group. The CWG is under the Monument Management Board for PMNM and made up of 50 individuals—from kūpuna (elders) to cultural practitioners—located across all of the main Hawaiian Islands, each with a strong tie to Papahānaumokuākea.

Senator Schatz’s proposal follows a strong and growing call from across Hawaiʻi to expand Papahānaumokuākea. If adopted by the Obama administration, the proposal seeks to more than quadruple the current monument footprint. Specifically, the Senator’s proposal would expand the Papahānaumokuākea boundary to the full extent of 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) starting at the 163°W Longitude. On April 5, 2016, the CWG wrote the White House Council on Environmental Quality to expand the boundaries of PMNM and to designate the Office of Hawaiian Affairs as a co-trustee on the management committee. “We thank Senator Schatz for providing the maximum amount of protection while ensuring that small boat fishermen can continue to access the areas that they have historically accessed,” says William Aila, Jr., a fisherman and founding member of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve. “With this proposal the senator is providing President Obama with a bold plan that Hawai‘i and the nation can be proud of.”

President Obama could use the Antiquities Act to expand the area of protection. The coalition is targeting the IUCN World Conservation Congress, happening September 1 - 10, 2016 for this announcement, with the hope that the President delivers the news himself in Honolulu.

Significant resources of scientific value would benefit from expanded protections. Highly migratory or far-ranging species such as sea turtles, whales, dolphins, seabirds, sharks, and tuna forage outside of the area of the existing monument. Additionally, recent scientific expeditions outside of the current monument and within the proposed expansion area have discovered high density biological communities in which most of the animals discovered are completely unknown to science, making for a compelling case for expansion. Of particular interest, black corals, which are the oldest living animal on the plant, estimated at more than 4,500 years old, have recently been found in the potential expansion area. The animals are described as the old growth redwood forests of the ocean.

“I fully support Senator Schatzʻs leadership decision that envisions a marine protected area for cultural resources, natural resources and marine replenishment for food security,” said Sol Kahoʻohalahala, a member of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group and founder of the Maunalei Ahupuaʻa Mauka-Makai Managed Area on Lānaʻi. “Our collective actions and informed choices today will be counted tomorrow by the generations of keiki yet unborn. E holomua kākou."

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are considered sacred to Native Hawaiians. The islands are where they believe all life began, and to which spirits return after death. Increased protections would reduce the present and future impacts to species and natural resources, including commercial fishing as well as threats posed by the imminent growth of seabed mining.

“This part of the Pacific represents a perfect region for large-scale protection,” said Dr. Richard Pyle, Associate Zoologist in Ichthyology, Department of Natural Sciences, Bishop Museum. “Because of the span in latitude, it represents a buffer to ocean warming and serves as a reservoir for species threatened in more tropical regions. The monument expansion will help ensure safe passage for larvae of corals, fishes, and other reef-associated species and help recolonize reefs devastated by the effects of climate change.”

Of important historical note, the remains of the Battle of Midway, a key turning point in World War II, and most notably the wreck of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, lie in the area of proposed expansion.

Twitter @expandpmnm

The following photos and video were taken outside the current boundaries of PMNM, in the area that is being considered for possible Monument expansion:
Still photos available here:
Videos available here:

All photos and videos should be credited as follows: Courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Hohonu Moana.

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