Obama Goes Big: Expansion of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument Makes It The World’s Largest Marine Protected Area

By Christie Wilcox | August 25, 2016 11:43 pm


Photo by Mark Sullivan

Photo by Mark Sullivan

Hawaiʻi is now home to the largest marine protected area on the planet. Again.

Today, White House officials announced that President is acting upon the proposed expansion to the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The expansion has been a hot button issue in the islands since its proposal in January. As Governor David Ige noted, it has been the source of “tremendous” debate, especially due to the exclusion of fishing from the expanded waters. The fishing industry fought hard against the proposal, leveraging TV ads, social media, town hall meetings and in-person testimony in Washington and Honolulu to prevent the expansion. But the pro-expansion movement has been resilient. Bumper stickers, signs, bookmarks and t-shirts with the hashtags “#ExpandPNMN” and “#GoBigObama” have been everywhere on Oʻahu. A flurry of town hall meetings, educational sessions, news conferences and media interviews rallied support. Led by The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Global Ocean Legacy program, the pro-expansion movement garnered more than 1,409,000 letters and signatures of support, including more than 1500 coral reef scientists that voiced their support during the International Coral Reef Symposium in Honolulu in June. “This decision is scientifically supported and provides substantial hope of leaving a legacy of ocean resources and benefits for future generations,” the scientists’ letter stated.

Ultimately, the President agreed. He will be visiting the islands next week to address leaders from the Pacific Island Conference of Leaders and the IUCN World Conservation Congress.

Papahanaumokuakea Expansion Map_FINAL

President Obama’s proclamation adds an additional 442,760 square miles (1.15 million square kilometers) to the marine reserve, nearly quadrupling its size. But in addition to expanding the protected area, the President’s announcement also included a special stipulation, which was requested by Governer Ige and Senator Brian Schatz: that the Office of Hawaiian Affairs be named co-trustee of the monument, giving Native Hawaiians more control over the fate of this culturally important monument.

Native Hawaiian leaders were especially in favor of expansion, as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands hold a special place in Hawaiian culture. “Papahānaumokuākea is critically important to Native Hawaiian culture—it is our ancestral place, the birthplace of all life,” said Sol Kahoʻohalahala, a seventh-generation Hawaiian from the island of Lanai and a member of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group, in a press release. “The expanded monument will serve as a conservation, climate, and cultural refuge for my granddaughter and future generations.”

“Papahānaumokuākea is critical to Native Hawaiian spiritual wellbeing, and this action by the President helps revive our connection to our kūpuna islands and reinforce our understanding of Hawai’i as a contiguous spiritual and cultural seascape,” said Office of Hawaiian Affairs Ka Pouhana/Chief Executive Officer Kamanaʻopono Crabbe in a statement. “The elevation of OHA to a Co-Trustee position rightfully places the Native Hawaiian voice at all levels of decision making in the governance of Papahānaumokuākea. This has been a ten year effort to achieve this position and this success marks the beginning of a new era of collaboration for the co-managers of the area to fulfill the tremendous responsibility of protecting and caring for this sacred place.”

“This is a historical moment for Hawaii and the world,” said William Aila, Jr., one of the Native Hawaiians leading the effort for expansion, and who has been involved in establishing protections for this area for more than 15 years. “This is a bold move, and it took a bold President–born and raised in Hawai‘i—to address the serious issues of climate change, the dire state of our oceans and recognizing the cultural significance of the area for Native Hawaiians. Mahalo, Mr. President.”

The expansion builds on the conservation initiative began by Theodore Roosevelt, which has included actions from six presidents (three Republicans and three Democrats). In June of 2006, when President George W. Bush gave birth the the marine national monument with Presidential Proclamation 8031, Papahānaumokuākea was the biggest swath of ocean to be protected by any government. “Papahānaumokuākea inspired an international movement to safeguard large areas of ocean and create the world’s first generation of great parks in the sea,” said Joshua S. Reichert, an executive vice president at Pew who oversees strategy for its Global Ocean Legacy project. In the decade since, there have been many similar large-scale marine protected areas enacted worldwide, including nine which are larger than the original Hawaiian monument. But the President’s declaration today bring the title of biggest MPA home to Hawaii.

More than 7,000 marine species call the expanded monument home, including endangered whales, seals, and sea turtles as well as the longest-living marine species in the world—black coral—the oldest of which, estimated to be 4,265 years old, is now protected under the expanded monument. Because of their cultural and biological significance, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010.

“We continue to discover species new to science every time we visit this incredible area,” said the Bishop Museum’s Richard Pyle, a well-known scientist in the islands who has helped document the wildlife in the monument for over thirty years. “The expansion of the Monument is a critical and necessary step to protect this vast and unique region not just from existing threats, but from future impacts over the decades and centuries to come. President Obama has demonstrated bold leadership in recognizing the importance of saving biodiversity not just for our generation, but the entire future of humanity. His decision to expand the Monument restores my hope that we may yet overcome the major environmental challenges we now face.”

“In an era of mounting climate change impacts on both global landscapes and seascapes, and with advances in technology that allow the exploitation of resources from the most isolated islands and deepest corners of the ocean, this well justified application of the Antiquities Act to protect resources of great scientific, cultural and historic value comes at a critical time,” noted Robert Richmond, Research Professor and Director of the Kewalo Marine Laboratory at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. “The only refuges left on this earth are those we choose to set aside and protect. This bold move is a true sign of proactive leadership that will help insure a legacy of vital bio-cultural resources for Hawaii, the Pacific and the world.”

“By expanding the monument,” Reichert also said, “President Obama has increased protections for one of the most biologically and culturally significant places on the planet.”

Thanks, Obama!


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Ecology, select, Technology, Top Posts
  • Jason Kilby

    Now this is , I believe , exceptionally good news!

  • OWilson

    Hate to be cynical, but this stuff is a little much!

    “Papahānaumokuākea is critically important to Native Hawaiian culture—it is our ancestral place, the birthplace of all life,” said Sol Kahoʻohalahala, a seventh-generation Hawaiian from the island of Lanai and a member of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group, in a press release. “The expanded monument will serve as a conservation, climate, and cultural refuge for my granddaughter and future generations.”

    In actual fact, these islands were UNINHABITED when discovered in the 18th century.

    This new age, old age spiritualism has in the past been used by indigenous folks to expropriate large swaths of lands to run such spiritually uplifting endeavors as casinos, cigarette, liquor smuggling operations, and of course “natural” rights to all the fishing, hunting and mineral resources in the area, sans federal regulation.

    • stephenreal

      Land surprisingly enough was expropriated by salesmen and carpet baggers from the original owners of that house called America.

      • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

        South America was conquered in blood, famine, and plague by Spanish conquistadors. Hawai’i was conquered in canned pineapple by Dole. Push the nuisances aside and get on with civilization, re Mauna Kea telescopes.

        Have you ever tasted poi or gotten drunk on fermented poi? Yay Dole.

        • OWilson

          How did the ancestors of nice guy, but sad sack Dole, ever subjugate and enslave the locals?

          They must have been drunk!

    • MarkDonners

      Hopefully the next bright idea the global corporate terrorists will have will be to exploit resources on the moon. Maybe they will succeed with their greed worship there while breathing deeply of the moon’s atmosphere. Oil and chemical, mining, factory fishing, etc and other planet raping corporate terrorist entities can rant all they want, but this decision has been made and there’s nothing they can do about it.

      • jonathanpulliam

        No. Too much space junk. Ego Musk – grade “hyper-stupe”. B o o n d o g g l e e x t r a o r d I n a I r e

      • OWilson

        Yes, we can safely leave oil, fishing, mining and manufacturing to the “greedy” corporate sector.

        We’ll leave your governments in charge of what they do best, regulating and taxing gambling, drugs, booze, tobacco, numbers racket (Lotto) protection racket (forced insurance Obamacare), and racking up debt on the unborn, formerly handled by the likes of Al Capone and his own brand of enforcers

        To each according to their abilities :)

        • MarkDonners

          The corporations that you worship and lick the shoes of are not just “greedy” they are in fact criminal entities that practice terrorism worse than ISIS. If you side with them that makes you personally guilty of terrorism.

      • The Wizard

        That’s a great idea of yours. Not sure you can fish on the moon, or breathe its atmosphere either, so you might want to re-think those.

        • MarkDonners

          My point was that those corporations are in the business of destroying planetary life and atmospheres, so the irony would be great when they try to breathe Moon’s atmosphere and then die. The huge benefit would be that the Earth would finally be free of those planet destroyers.

  • stephenreal

    Three cheers for President Obama on the Papahānaumokuākea Marine Preserve!!!!


    President Obama and Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau may consider Georges Bank as the next great (East Coast) marine preserve.
    Georges Bank is a large elevated area of the sea floor between Cape Cod, Massachusetts (United States), and Cape Sable Island, Nova Scotia (Canada).

    • OWilson

      Pity to waste such a huge political victory!

      No indigenous folks there.

      And cods don’t vote. :(

      • stephenreal

        This is not about casinos. This is about large fish preservation.

        • OWilson

          Do you think Trudeau and Obama and Michele will actually be eating less fish?

          Honestly now?!

    • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

      Canada sterilized the Grand Banks, our planet’s most productive fishery, when its “advisors” eructated that flat harvests demanded massive Ottawa subsidies of fishing fleets. It worked! Kinda echoes the Federal Reserve, eh?

      د دموکراسۍ، د سواد، او انساني کرامت د لارو موږ ته رسوم.
      Government – the most expensive most destructive way to fail.

      • MarkDonners

        Canada has one of the worst records in the world for psychotic environmental destruction. It’s pseudo socialist corporate controlled government are staffed by criminals who are responsible for many cruelties and environmental atrocities, including the infamous harp seal bloodbaths.

        • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

          The US has the EPA. The US is its pwn population’s major terrorist organization. Now, it is going global.

          • MarkDonners

            Doesn’t change the facts about disgusting Canada. Bunch of apathetic sadists in Canada wouldn’t lift a finger to stop genocide.

          • The Wizard

            Yes it does.

          • King Arthur

            What genocide are you on about? Is there some cull of mongoose happening somewhere, or a farm of slightly upset Llama?

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Papahānaumokuākea” When things are slow, President Trump can rename it “Bob,” minimizing its printing ink carbon footprint, saving all the little children.

  • Blue Gum

    Isn’t this outside the US? how can they claim ownership of it?

    • MarkDonners

      I assume the US jurisdiction extends 200 miles into the ocean. Anything that is located beyond that is still at risk from greedy ocean rapers.

      • Blue Gum

        This goes well beyond the 200 mile zone.

        • MarkDonners

          Whatever. Nothing you can do about it now except rant.

          • Blue Gum

            If you think my comments are “rants” then you need your head examined.

          • The Wizard

            This is an ironic comment. Most of your comments are rants about Asian dog camps, corporate greed, and how animals are better than all humans (even though they can’t decorate).
            It’s a known fact that ‘mericans’ don’t get irony and this is a cast in stone example.

  • jonathanpulliam

    Sheikh Hussein Obama’s crisis
    Preceded his support for ISIS
    Why “Diesel”, the Kenyan mole then swore,
    “Wants to help them even more!”

    Batshat Lindsey, John McCain
    Had better figure how to ‘splain
    Yon snail darter grows and prospers
    So Barry can “top-off” ISIS’ coffers.

    Obama sent ISIS dough straight to the tank:
    The great, ISIS-held, Mosul Central Bank.
    Sheikh Hussein is at his nices’
    When he helps the Turks help ISIS

  • Ahmed Ali

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About Christie Wilcox

Dr. Christie Wilcox is a science writer based in the greater Seattle area. Her bylines include National Geographic, Popular Science, and Quanta. Her debut book, Venomous, released August 2016 (Scientific American/FSG Books). To learn more about her life and work, check out her webpage or follow her on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook.


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