Proposed Expansion of Papahānaumokuākea

July 18, 2016, 1:00 PM HST · Updated July 18, 1:03 PM
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Red pencil urchin at Papahānaumokuākea. Photo: James Watt

Red pencil urchin at Papahānaumokuākea. Photo: James Watt via NOAA.

US Senator Brian Schatz of Hawai‘i will join federal agencies in conducing public meetings across the state to gather comment on his proposal to expand the Papahānaumokuākea National Marine Monument.

Senator Schatz said, “I am grateful to President Obama and his Administration for accepting my invitation to hear directly from Hawai‘i residents before making any decisions.”

He joins the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Fish and Wildlife Service in gathering public comment.

Scientists attending the International Coral Reef Symposium in Honolulu last month released a joint letter to President Barack Obama emphasizing the international marine science community’s unified support for expanding the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

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The reserve boasts a bipartisan legacy in which six US presidents have used executive action to protect the area’s fragile resources and covers 140,000 square miles of ocean, coral reefs, and small islands.

Senator Schatz recently asked President Obama to expand the monument to include an additional 442,000 square miles, which would make it the world’s largest marine protected area.

Supporters of the legislation say “Papahānaumokuākea harbors rich biodiversity and is regarded in Hawaiian culture as a place of honor, the root of native ancestral connections to the gods, and where spirits return after death.” There is a deep spiritual connection to the area’s flora and fauna, including sharks, seabirds and whales.

“The expansion zone being proposed right now includes the oldest animal––a black coral that is more than 4000 years old, said Dr. Doug McCauley, a marine biology professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara who helped to author a new scientific report, Pu’uhonua: A Place of Sanctuary, which details the significant biological and cultural evidence for the expansion of Papahānaumokuākea.

In a statement issued in June, Dr. McCauley described the ecological riches that can be safeguarded by expanded monument protection.  “This is an animal that was alive before even the pyramids were built.  If ever there was an appropriate use of the Antiquities Act by the President of the United States it would be to protect the oldest animal on our planet,” he said.

Participants are welcome to submit written materials to supplement their spoken comments to NOAA and FWS at two meetings planned for Monday Aug. 1, 2016 on Oʻahu (from 5-8 p.m. at the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu) and Tuesday, Aug. 2 on Kauaʻi (from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Kauaʻi Community College Performing Arts Center).

In addition, written comments will be accepted on Maui at the Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale Sanctuary Visitor Center in Kīhei, on Hawai‘i Island at the Mokupapapa Discovery Center, and on Oʻahu at the Honolulu Services Center.

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