Expanded Pacific Remote Islands Protections Would Safeguard Nature, Culture - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Authors

Sol Kahoohalahala

Sol Kahoohalahala, a member of the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition, is a seventh-generation Native Hawaiian descendant, kupaaina, from the island of Lanai. He currently serves as a member of the Papahanaumokuakea Native Hawaiian Working Group and is the acting chair of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

Hoku Cody

Hoku Cody, a member of the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition, is a marine biologist and GIS project analyst from Oahu who works on Kauai. She currently co-chairs the Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group for Papahanaumokuakea.


The Pacific Remote Islands are one of the last wild and healthy marine ecosystems in the world, home to endangered sharks and resilient coral reefs, and deep-sea species found nowhere else on Earth.

These islands are also at the intersection of many ocean voyaging routes that connect all Pacific Island peoples and communities; they symbolize the forging of intergenerational knowledge and cultural values that could only be developed from living on islands at the center of the largest ocean on the planet.

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As Pacific Island peoples, the ocean has always held a special place for us as the source from where life begins. In one of the origin stories for Native Hawaiians, out of darkness emerges all of our ohana, our family — the coral polyp was the first born in the darkness of the ocean, then came all of our marine ohana, then our winged and feathered ohana took flight, followed by the flora and fauna that adorn this world, including the star families.

We humans joined the family much later in the creation process.

This story demonstrates that we have a profound duty and privilege to malama — care for — these precious places that give life which also includes our ancestors of the deep, remote, and vast Pacific.

Right now, on World Ocean Day — June 8 — there is a chance to honor our connection to a very special region of the ocean by expanding protections for the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. All of us have contributed our expertise as kupuna, educators, marine biologists, and storytellers to making this expansion a reality.

Last week, we sent an official request to the White House urging President Biden to extend the monument around two sets of islands and atolls from 50 to 200 nautical miles. If we’re successful, the Pacific Remote Islands would become the largest highly protected marine protected area in the world. It would bring more than 50 endangered species, unexplored underwater mountain ranges and traditional voyaging seascapes under legally binding protections.

The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument proposed expansion
The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument was originally established in 2009 by President George W. Bush and was expanded in 2014 by President Barack Obama under the Antiquities Act. The Pacific Remote Islands Coalition is requesting that President Joe Biden expand the monument boundaries around Howland and Baker Islands, Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef to 200 nautical miles from the current 50 nautical miles of protection. www.protectpri.com

The sea turtles, sharks, and manta rays in the monument are just some of the species that make up the complex and interconnected nearshore ecosystems. The more ocean we can protect, the more we honor our interdependency to our ohana in the deep-seas, and on land. Furthermore, expanding existing monument boundaries will ensure the continued health of the areas we already protect.

In the face of increasing threats, expanded protections are essential. We must prevent destructive oil drilling, industrial fishing, and deep sea mining in these precious areas. Climate change has already reshaped our oceans in unprecedented ways, such as coral bleaching events that leave areas bone-white and barren. Intact natural ecosystems like those in the waters of the Pacific Remote Islands are more resilient to climate change — and can help in the fight against biodiversity loss.

Recognizing the ocean as a natural mechanism to counter climate change, the Biden administration has committed to protecting 30% of U.S. waters by 2030, which aligns with our call for setting aside more of our precious marine environment. Expanded protections will also allow us to better understand climate change impacts in a system driven by nature alone.

In the face of increasing threats, expanded protections are essential.

Creating a larger protected zone around the Pacific Remote Islands will also allow us to promote a more inclusive decision-making process. In the past, Pacific Island peoples were cut off from their ancestral connections and responsibilities as the U.S. government imposed names, marine boundaries, and management practices without any consultation.

Moving forward, it is essential that the management of U.S. marine protected areas like the Pacific Remote Islands includes a role for the peoples with genealogical ties to these places. In this case, that means the communities of the Pacific.

In historic times, the islands and surrounding waters had a rich legacy of oceanic voyaging and served as places for stewardship for those on long trans-Pacific voyages. By keeping the ecosystems of the Pacific Remote Islands intact, it provides a setting for wayfinding to continue and bring the Pacific cultures together. Thus, by extending the boundaries of the Pacific Remote Islands, we honor their cultural and biological legacies.

Editor’s note: Kekuewa Kikiloi and Naiʻa Lewis, members of the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition, co-authored this Community Voice.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.


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About the Authors

Sol Kahoohalahala

Sol Kahoohalahala, a member of the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition, is a seventh-generation Native Hawaiian descendant, kupaaina, from the island of Lanai. He currently serves as a member of the Papahanaumokuakea Native Hawaiian Working Group and is the acting chair of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

Hoku Cody

Hoku Cody, a member of the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition, is a marine biologist and GIS project analyst from Oahu who works on Kauai. She currently co-chairs the Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group for Papahanaumokuakea.


Latest Comments (0)

One main thing is to safeguard this treasure from the massive Chinese fishing fleet that ravages the ocean.

trekadmiral · 1 week ago

How exactly can someone "benefit" from this if they can't even go there to look at stuff? It seems more like excluding everyone from the entire area, not preserving it for everyone.Other countries are not bound by our laws. Neither are we to theirs. So how will this be enforced? USCG is shorthanded. They can't just patrol the whole area daily hoping to find someone to bust.It seems like a futile effort. Who are we "conserving" this area for? Us? But you can't fish there. You can't boat there.

Ranger_MC · 3 weeks ago

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