Hawaiians Support Full Protection of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

Hawaiian Gov. Linda Lingle announced in September 2005 her decision to create the Northwestern Hawaiian Island Marine Refuge. She ended all extractive uses from state waters, located 0 to 3 miles from shore around all the islands except Midway Atoll. Access is sharply limited.

Lingle said the new rules set in motion the most significant marine conservation initiative in the history of Hawai`i. She said that the NWHI region is “Hawai`i’s gift not only to our residents, but to the global community as a world-class natural resource.”

Access permits to the refuge are subjected to a “do no harm” standard and require a precautionary approach. Access is allowed only for Native Hawaiian customary practices and scientific, educational or non-extractive purposes for resource protection and management. In addition, state refuge rules require all permits to be subject to public comment.

“As one of the last pristine wilderness locations on earth, it is only right to consider the long-term preservation of this area and strive to have one place that is free from extraction,” said Peter Young, chair of Hawai`i’s Department of Land Resources.

Two rounds of public hearings held statewide resulted in more than 25,000 public comments.

The state’s permitting guidelines state that:

■ Activities in the islands must be non-commercial and not involve the sale of any organism, byproduct, or material collected;

■ Resources and samples are a public trust, not to be used for sale, patent, bioassay, or bio-prospecting, or for obtaining patents or intellectual property rights;

■ Activities must have demonstrable benefits to the preservation and management of the ecosystem;

■ Activities must do no harm to the ecological or biological systems, sites or resources of the NWHI;

■ Activities must have demonstrable benefits to the cultural and spiritual relationship of Native Hawaiians to the NWHI ecosystem;

■ Activities must support the perpetuation of traditional knowledge and ancestral connections of the Native Hawaiians to the NWHI.

The Executive Orders

In 1909, Theodore Roosevelt issued an Executive Order to protect the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Almost a century later, Bill Clinton issued two Executive Orders establishing the 84-million-acre Northwestern Hawaiian Island Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve.

Clinton’s Executive Order 13178, issued in December 2000 after comments from government agencies and the public, ensured “the comprehensive, strong, and lasting protection of the coral reef ecosystem and related marine resources and species” of the islands.”

Its principal purpose is the “longterm conservation and protection” of the ecosystem and species “in their natural character.”

It said the Reserve will be managed using a “precautionary approach with resource protection favored when there is a lack of information regarding any given activity.”

It specified that a sanctuary may be established in the islands, and if so, it must “complement or supplement” the Reserve’s protections.

It recognized Native Hawaiian “culturally significant, noncommercial subsistence, cultural, and religious uses,” and said that research and educational activities would be allowed only “to the extent consistent with the primary purpose of the reserve.”

It said that the process of designating a sanctuary shall be initiated, but left open the question of whether the designation would actually be completed.

It caps commercial and recreational fishing at existing (low) levels of catch and effort and allows no increase in permits and the establishment of any new fisheries.

It created a Reserve Advisory Council “to provide advice and recommendations on the Reserve Operations Plan and designation and management of any sanctuary.” The RAC, unlike Wespac, has strict conflict-of-interest rules. Violations of marine regulations result in dismissal from the RAC. Executive Order 13196, issued in January 2001, made permanent the small closed areas established around each island and atoll.

Formed in 1918 by Prince Kuhio Kalaniana`ole, the Hawaiian Civic Clubs are the oldest community-based Hawaiian organization in the islands.

On Oct. 29, 2005, at their annual convention, the Civic Clubs approved a resolution calling for a national marine refuge to:

■ “Permanently and completely prohibit all commercial activities and protect Native Hawaiian cultural, religious, and subsistence practices, and allow only appropriate scientific and educational access to the NWHI Archipelago that would only benefit the cultural and ecological resources of the NWHI Archipelago.” The Civic Clubs raised the following points as a basis for their resolution:

 ■ “The NWHI archipelago consists of ceded lands and hold great significance in Hawaiian culture and history, and are featured in ancient `oli and mele;”

■ “The NWHI Archipelago must be a true Pu`uhonua — a place of safety and regeneration — in order to provide adequate support to endemic, rare, threatened species including Hawaiian monk seals, threatened green sea turtles…millions of migratory sea birds;”

■ “Massive public input and support from kupuna, cultural practitioners, fishers, scientists, and community members prompted protections for this special place through the federal NWHI Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve established by the 2000 Executive Order; “

■ After receiving more than 25,000 comments from the public, the State of Hawai`i's Board of Land and Natural Resources responded by approving a fully protected Pu`uhonua or Refuge in state waters of the NWHI…

■ “The new state Refuge reflects public in put by guaranteeing Native Hawaiian cultural, religious, and subsistence practices while prohibiting all commercial and recreational fishing in state waters of the NWHI.”

■ “The state's Refuge protections should be extended to federal waters.”

Paul Koberstein