Papahanaumokuakea Is A Model For Our Future - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Catherine Takata

Catherine Takata is a marine scientist who developed an early passion for the environment by growing up along the Southern California coast, and by frequently visiting family on the Big Island. She has an undergraduate degree from UC Santa Cruz in Earth Science and is currently working toward her master’s degree at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at UC Santa Barbara.


Aug. 26 marks the fifth anniversary of the expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. As kanaka maoli and a young marine scientist, I am proud of the commitment to protect this incredible ocean ecosystem and its historic and scientific artifacts of early Polynesian culture.

But most significantly, I am proud of the commitment to explicitly include Hawaiian culture and knowledge systems as a valued aspect of monument management — as seen in the newly released Mai Ka Po Mai cultural guidance report. With climate change and loss of nature threatening the future of our planet, our cultures and my generation, Papahanaumokuakea should serve as a model throughout Hawaii and across the globe.

Indigenous communities bring generations of culture, knowledge, and perspective interconnected with conservation and environmental stewardship. For kanaka maoli, or Native Hawaiians, the interconnectedness of nature and culture is our identity. It goes beyond building awareness that nature and culture are one, to establishing a lasting bond between people and place.

Through Kamehameha Schools Hoomakaikai cultural immersion programs, I learned first-hand about the hard work of my kupuna to protect the aina, kai, and loi of the islands. By hand, I planted koa tree saplings into the flanks of Mauna Loa to re-establish a native forest. In the loi of Oahu, I planted kalo to maintain a local farm and business. By wading through waste deep water, I hand caught and removed invasive fish from local ponds.

A map of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument depicting known maritime heritage resources. www.papahanaumokuakea.gov

Aina is the source of Hawaiian identity. It is based on the reality that humans are not separate from the environment. Malama aina is a Hawaiian expression of our rights and kuleana to care for aina. The learning experiences with Kamehameha Schools taught me the significance and invaluable practices of environmental stewardship established by our kupuna.

My current work at Malama Maunalua has shown me how an organization of community members that embody this identity can strive for environmental management solutions. Malama aina has universal implications for direct care and protection of resources established before us.

Historic Guidance

From the beginning of its designation, Papahanaumokuakea has set a model for establishing Hawaiian culture as the basis for its management framework. Earlier this summer, the co-trustees of the monument released Mai Ka Po Mai, an historic guidance document that was the culmination of over ten years of discussions with the Native Hawaiian community.

It integrates cultural traditions related to Papahanaumokuakea and seeks to help federal agencies further incorporate Native Hawaiian culture into the management of this special ocean place. For instance, it establishes malama aina, cultural practice, blessing protocol, and olelo Hawaii to ensure that traditional knowledge and values are recognized and perpetuated.

By including Native Hawaiian culture within the bounds of the Papahanaumokuakea management framework, studies of the Northern Hawaiian Islands can expand beyond traditional scientific research, as cultural studies, language, history, archeology, song and dance are encouraged in the research and monitoring process.

Indigenous-led conservation can protect our marine ecosystems.

It is essential to elevate the voices of indigenous communities and rely on their leadership for place-based conservation efforts. Unique collaborative management systems, like Papahanaumokuakea, should serve as a model for effective ocean protection and marine protected areas as the Biden administration sets out to achieve the national goal of conserving at least 30% of our ocean by 2030.

Indigenous-led conservation can protect our marine ecosystems, but most importantly, protect our diverse communities and the cultures that are interconnected with these ecosystems. Scientific significance and cultural value can be one and the same.

E komo mai! Let us together celebrate the anniversary of the expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, and share its legacy across the globe.

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About the Author

Catherine Takata

Catherine Takata is a marine scientist who developed an early passion for the environment by growing up along the Southern California coast, and by frequently visiting family on the Big Island. She has an undergraduate degree from UC Santa Cruz in Earth Science and is currently working toward her master’s degree at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at UC Santa Barbara.


Latest Comments (0)

Papahanaumokuakea is so much more than I realized. Thank you for this. 

Reesa · 1 month ago

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