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Column: Extending protections to ‘rest’ ocean

Originally published in Hawaiʻi Star Advertiser

By Hanohano Naehu

I am a born and raised Molokaʻi boy. I come from generations of native people who lived on this Hawaiian island as far back as creation. That means I’m guided by ʻaina: everything that feeds us and gives us life. It is nature and humans together in harmony.

I am also guided by the action of aloha ʻaina: to protect ʻaina, which encompasses living and nonliving things — the ocean, wind, plants, animals, dirt, rocks. Everything was made before humans, so in the chain of life we need to take care of our older siblings. We must protect this harmony, which is the balance of nature itself.

At this moment, we are out of tune. Our ocean faces threats, including harmful commercial fishing and the growing impacts of climate change.

But if you let nature rest, she bounces back. That’s why we must finish the work we started and expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Parts of the Pacific Ocean are currently within the monument’s boundaries and protected from harms like deep-sea mining and commercial fishing. I was part of the work in 2014 that, on this day eight years ago, successfully expanded protections around three of the monument’s management areas to their full range within U.S. waters — 200 nautical miles.

But two management areas — Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef, and Howland and Baker Island — did not receive protection to that full range, creating patchwork gaps open to exploitation.

Today, I am still fighting to protect these wild places by asking President Joe Biden to extend the monument’s boundaries like we asked so long ago.

Our ocean needs all of the rest she can get. She is being polluted and depleted. I listen to what the coral, the fish, all of nature is saying — and they’re crying. They’re hurt. They want to be rescued. They want to be left alone.

Marine national monument protections would provide that rest, allowing fish populations to recover and create resilience to climate change. But our request is for more than expanded boundaries: We also believe that Pacific Island communities should be part of decisions about the monument’s management.

I have seen how successful this can be through my work on the Keawanui Fishpond on my island of Molokaʻi. It was the first successful restoration of an 800-year-old Hawaiian fishpond, where we rebuilt the rock wall of this aquacultural marvel of engineering, allowing fish and oysters to thrive. The fishpond structure sees the connection between land, ocean, and reef. It is one of the many ways my people understood how to live with the smallest footprint.

We need more ancient Hawaiian practices in our ocean management, and there is no time to lose. To me, it’s an all out battle. Powerful players in destructive industries and lax politicians are causing too much harm to delay. Shame on them for their greed, and shame on politicians who wait too long to protect our ocean.

I’m passionate about confronting the challenges ahead of us, despite the politics that stand in the way of protecting our planet. I know it will take heart, grit and love. I know that we will move one person at a time, one protection at a time.

I can see a better tomorrow for our ocean. To create this future, we must take action now.

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Today is the eight-year anniversary of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument expansion, proclaimed by President Barack Obama on Sept. 25, 2014.

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