Plan to Protect Papahanaumokuakea

Lynn Scarlett
Lynn Scarlett

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- Our Earth and Sea Project begins under the sea. In the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, one of our planet's remaining shining examples of marine conservation.

Tuesday, a trio of government agencies unveils a plan to manage Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, our country's largest conservation area.

This plan will help determine the future of 7,000 species in a 140,000 square mile stretch of the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.

Living in Hawaii, we're used to the beautiful ocean and the animals that live in it. This draft proposal means our ocean life will be better protected, and endangered and threatened species will have a chance to thrive once again.

Hawaii is home to Papahanaumokuakea, the largest marine protected area in the world.

"It's larger than 46 of 50 United States. It's larger than the entire national park system," said Lynn Scarlett, Deputy Secretary of the Interior. "As a bird lover, I love this stat: it's home to 14 million sea birds and other wildlife."

It is also sacred to native Hawaiians, who believe Papahanaumoku is a goddess who gave birth to the islands.

"We wouldn't have such strong protections today had it not been for a small group of dedicated Hawaiians, who saw what was happening up there and recognized the significance of the place and decided to take action," said 'Aulani Wilhelm, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) superintendent.

A collaborative effort among state and federal agencies, as well as native hawaiian groups, help draft the plan to protect the region.

"I can tell you what this plan will allow us to do, to conserve wildlife and habitat, to reduce threats to our resources, to manage human uses to coordinate management and to learn and understand more about this very special place," said Gov. Linda Lingle (R-Hawaii).

"Also as a Hawaiian, it feels good to know that, I hope that, I've been able to have some influence in a way that honors my ancestors."

Not only is undersea life in the monument rare, the cooperation between different government agencies is unusual. The plan will direct the management of the site for the next fifteen years.

"It's a framework," said Wilhem. "There's a lot of specifics in there, and a lot of room for continued engagement of the public across 15 years."

This could be a turning point in how we treat the environment.

"So we have a choice," said Wilhem. "Are we going to continue on that path or are we going to make decisions, and take action to make sure places like Papahanaumokuakea are protected for future generations and for the world?"

People still have the next 75 days to give their input on the draft plan. The governor will hold nine meetings across the state during that time.