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Gov. Ige supports expansion of Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument

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Blacktip sharks at Palmyra Atoll. Photo Credit: Kydd Pollock

In conjunction with the signing of four bills to provide better protection of ocean waters around Hawai‘i, Gov. David Ige sent a letter to President Joe Biden expressing his full support for the proposed expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

If approved, the expansion would increase the marine monument from 425,639 to 789,141 square miles, making it the largest marine protected area (MPA) in the world.

“Here in the Pacific, the ocean connects us,” Gov. Ige said. “The Pacific Remote Islands are among the last wild and healthy marine ecosystems in the world, largely because of the lack of human activity. I’m in agreement that the expansion of this marine national monument is politically feasible, culturally supported and builds on the work already done to keep this part of the Pacific Ocean healthy and abundant.”

The monument was established in 2009 by President George W. Bush and expanded by President Barack Obama in 2014.

On June 1, the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition petitioned President Joe Biden to further expand the monument. According to the coalition, full protection is needed in the waters surrounding Howard and Baker islands, Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll.

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Extensive research at Palmyra Atoll and other Pacific islands over the past 20 years has confirmed the strong ecological link between pelagic fish, foraging birds and coral reef communities. The areas’ underwater seamounts create productive, nutrient rich hotspots. Foraging seabirds bring these nutrients back to their island nesting grounds that feed the surrounding coral reef communities. Protecting these ocean waters is critical to this cycle.

Booby face at Palmyra Atoll. Photo Credit: Laura M. Beauregard/US Fish and Wildlife Service
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Supporters say the expansion would honor the memory and sacrifice of members of Hui Panala‘au, 130 mostly Native Hawaiian men who were sent to Howland, Baker and Jarvis islands from 1935-1942, which enabled the United States to claim jurisdiction over the area.

Papahānaumokuakea Marine National Monument, which the State of Hawai‘i co-manages with federal partners and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, also is the only intact cultural voyaging seascape within the Hawaiian Islands.

“Expanding protection could likewise preserve the Pacific Remote Islands as a premier classroom for ancestral voyaging, preserving and promoting the culture and history of Pacific seafaring peoples,” the coalition stated.

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Additional benefits of an expanded Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument include:

  • The monument is a complex, interconnected ecosystem and expansion is needed to ensure the continued health of land and nearshore areas into deeper waters for abundant populations of marine wildlife.
  • Protection would pre-emptively protect tuna and other pelagic predatory fish in the face of climate change, and by extension other species that rely on their role in the food web for continued stability.
  • Expansion affords protections to important historical objects in our shared past, from ancient Polynesian exploration to World War II.

Proponents say the expansion would not significantly affect fishing operations in the area, “and would actually protect the area from potential deep-sea mining that would cause an acute disruption to the ecosystem and therefore catch in surrounding waters.”

In a news release from the coalition, Native Hawaiian Elder Sol Kaho‘ohalahala said: “The Pacific Remote Islands hold precious connections to our past and promise for our future as Pacific peoples. In the same way these waters are at the nexus of cross-cultural voyaging pathways across Polynesia, they likewise are an intersection of climate change mitigation, cultural practice and scientific discovery. We must protect these waters.”

In the letter of support to President Biden, Gov. Ige wrote: “I understand that large-scale marine protected areas are critical to maintaining climate change resilience, protecting biodiversity and enhancing fisheries. … I believe the proposal to expand boundaries … balances the social and economic needs of today with the future health of our ocean.”

The request for expanded protections is also supported by Hawai‘i U.S. Rep. Ed Case and seven local organizations, including the Bishop Museum, the Papahānaumokuakea Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group and Papa Ola Lokahi.

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