On Tuesday, March 21st, President Biden announced that the Administration will increase protections to the Pacific Remote Islands by advancing the designation of a new National Marine Sanctuary. This announcement is in response to the long-standing request of the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition (PRI Coalition) to expand protections to the area.
Friday, March 24, 2023 UPDATE: The White House released a Memorandum on Conserving the Natural and Cultural Heritage of the Pacific Remote Islands.
The proposed Sanctuary would encompass the existing Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, supplementing and complementing existing protections, and extend to the full limit of the Exclusive Economic Zone (200 nautical miles) around Howland and Baker Islands, Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll.
With resilient coral reefs, diverse threatened and endangered wildlife, and deep-sea species that do not exist anywhere else on Earth, the Pacific Remote Islands are home to some of the last healthy, wild ecosystems in the Pacific Ocean. Its waterways weave a rich, shared wayfinding history connecting Pacific Island nations and cultures who crossed the vast ocean using winds, stars, and currents to navigate their paths. These islands also hold the story of the Hui Panalāʻau, a group of more than 130 mostly Native Hawaiian young men, whose service and sacrifice played a vital role in defining the modern footprint of America.
A national marine sanctuary would create the world’s largest highly protected marine protected area by overlaying a national marine sanctuary for the existing protections, and expanding protection around Howland and Baker Islands, Kingman Reef, and Palmyra Atoll from 50 nautical miles, to 200 nautical miles (exclusive economic zone).
Hawaiʻi’s congressional delegation, Hawai‘i Governor Josh Green, as well as Pacific Islanders, cultural practitioners, scientists, conservationists, fishers and community members have expressed their support for commencing this process. This announcement would not have been possible without their support. A special mahalo to Senator Brian Schatz, Senator Mazie Hirono, Congressman Ed Case, Representative Jill Tokuda.
On March 15, 2023, Hawai‘i Governor Josh Green sent a letter to President Joe Biden outlining support for expanding and further protecting the Pacific Remote Islands. We would like to send our deepest mahalo to Governor Josh Green for your support of a National Marine Sanctuary designation process! Read Gov. Green’s letter of support here.
In a release on Tuesday, March 21, Ed Case applauded President Biden’s direction to the Secretary of Commerce to initiate consideration of designation of the waters of the U.S. Pacific Remote Islands as a National Marine Sanctuary.
The Pacific Remote Islands including their waters are not only a critical interlocking component of the broader Pacific marine ecosystem, but an integral part of the historical and cultural ties of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific as well as a key source of scientific knowledge on the preservation of a sustainable ocean environment,” said Case. “As a nation, we have a duty to ensure the long-term survival of the PRI’s ecological, scientific and cultural value. This process will do just that and will achieve the marine protection goals of President Biden’s America the Beautiful Initiative to protect thirty percent of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.
Mahalo to Congressman Ed Case for supporting the efforts to protect the Pacific Remote Islands! Your leadership and mana‘o has paved the way to make tremendous progress for the Pacific Remote Islands.
It was wonderful for members from the PRI Coalition to meet with US Representative Jill Tokuda (Hawai‘i 2nd District) this week, and to be able to bring a little Aloha from the Islands to Washington DC.
Mahalo Rep. Tokuda for talking story with the PRI Coalition and for your support in helping us further protect the Pacific Remote Islands!
Members of the PRI Coalition met with Dr. Jane Lubchenco, deputy director for climate and environment at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
Now is the time to expand protections for PRI because it is supported by science, it would honor the cultural and historical legacy of these islands, and it would build on the work already done to keep this part of the Pacific healthy, pristine, and abundant.
Background of the Pacific Remote Islands.
PRI is among the last wild and healthy marine ecosystems in the world, largely isolated from human activity. Currently, the Pacific Remote Island Marine National Monument (PRIMNM) covers approximately 1.27 million sq km. The proposed national marine sanctuary would potentially add approximately 685,000 sq km, making PRI the largest highly protected marine protected area in the world.
PRI is a complex and interconnected ecosystem that highlights the interdependence of pelagic, nearshore, and terrestrial life including sharks, rays, whales, turtles, sea birds, and fish. In order to ensure the continued health of the land and nearshore areas that are already a part of PRI, we need to expand the protection to the deeper waters on which they depend.
Cultural and Historical Benefits of the Pacific Remote Islands.
A national marine sanctuary would honor the memory and sacrifice of the members of Hui Panalāʻau, 130 mostly Native Hawaiian young men who were sent to Howland, Baker and Jarvis from 1935- 1942 and enabled the U.S. to claim jurisdiction of this area. Currently, Papahānaumokuākea serves as the only intact cultural voyaging seascape within the Hawaiian Islands. Expanding protection could likewise preserve PRI as a premier classroom for traditional wayfinding, preserving and promoting the culture and history of Pacific seafaring peoples. Traditional wayfinding practices rely on the health of the ocean and require larger protected areas in which to practice various navigation and sailing techniques.
Environmental Protections of the Pacific Remote Islands.
The proposed expansion area is home to healthy and abundant populations of wildlife including coral, fish, sharks, turtles, rays, whales, dolphins, birds, and other invertebrates. Many of these species are endangered or threatened and need to be protected. An estimated 98 seamounts exist outside the boundaries of existing protections, where potential new species of corals, fish, and even bacteria may have efficacy in improving cancer treatments. Expanding protection means safeguarding these organisms for their future growth and discoveries that may change the tides of biomedical science. Most of the deep-sea biodiversity in this area remains unexplored, with recent expeditions identifying new species on every dive. According to current data and modeling, expanding protection for the waters of PRI would contribute to Pacific Ocean resilience in the face of climate change.
A sanctuary can protect the area from potential deep-sea mining that would cause an acute disruption to the ecosystem and therefore catch in surrounding waters. Protection would preemptively 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. Expanding protections beyond the existing PRI Monument would provide protection for important historical objects from significant milestones in our shared past, from WWII to traditional way finding voyages.
In addition to expanded protections, the Coalition’s ask includes a renaming of the Pacific Remote Islands, and to adopt a co-management structure. Learn more here.