U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz made the proposal to expand the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument official Thursday in a letter to President Barack Obama. Schatz called for the monument to grow to 582,578 square miles, which would make it the world’s largest marine protected area.

Parts of the monument would extend from shore by 200 miles to the limit of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, while other parts would have their boundaries maintained to provide “access for local fishermen on Kauai and Niihau” according to a press release from the senator’s office.

Schatz said he and his staff met with Gov. David Ige, state Senate President Ron Kouchi, Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho, and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to discuss their concerns.

“With their feedback, Schatz developed the proposal sent to the president,” the release said.

A large group of state lawmakers, including Kouchi, recently wrote a letter to Obama opposing the possible expansion.

This map shows the proposed expansion area around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
This map shows the proposed expansion area around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Courtesy: Sen. Brian Schatz

Ige made this statement in the release from Schatz’ office:

“Like the Polynesians who first settled these islands, we can balance the management of this unique natural habitat and its historic artifacts with the needs of the human population. Sen. Schatz has addressed many of the concerns I’ve heard about the expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument and has proposed reasonable accommodations for local fishers who are helping to feed our families. I look forward to the public process as it moves forward.”

The press release cited these “key points” in the senator’s proposal:

• “Stopping expansion at 163° West Longitude so Kauai and Niihau residents will have access to all of their existing fishing areas — including the particularly active fishing spot near NOAA Weather Buoy 51101.”

• “Recognizing the Office of Hawaiian Affairs as a co-trustee of the PMNM on equal footing with the Department of Commerce, the Department of the Interior, and the State of Hawaii.”

• “Proposing a significant expansion that supports both Hawaii residents and the environment and that will inspire commitments from government managers, philanthropic organizations, and individuals to support the expansion.”

“The best available science indicates that expanding the PMNM will strengthen an ecosystem that sustains tuna, swordfish, sharks, seabirds, sea turtles, and Hawaiian monk seals,” Schatz wrote to the president.  “(T)he expanded region contains significant bio-cultural resources and archaeological sites that further justify use of the Antiquities Act.”

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Native Hawaiian Working Group issued a statement Thursday in support of Schatz’s proposal.

“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 working group, in the statement.


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