Making Waves — Hawaii

Photo submitted.

Climate problems may seem too big to tackle, yet people all around this great nation are taking action. This is a state-by-state review of how some are responding.
This week’s column looks at: HAWAI’I and the question is: How do Marine Protected Areas figure into the US goal of saving our oceans?

For thousands of years, Hawaiians developed their rich cultural practices tied to the land and sea on which they depend. Hawai’i is comprised of the eight Hawaiian Islands and the Hawaiian Archipelago which stretches across 1,700 miles of the North Pacific Ocean. In the volcanic chain of inhabited islands and the sacred places of the reefs, atolls, and islets of the archipelago, marine ecosystems have long been key to native Hawaiians’ survival and identity which even withstood their difficult transition to statehood.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) oversees US Marine Protected Areas (MPA) – a program which now covers 26% of US waters. (Factoids: total US waters cover 4.8 million square miles. Compare this to the US landmass – which is a bit over 3.5 million square miles.) More than half of the MPAs are located in the Pacific Islands, with a distant 2nd being our own Great Lakes (12% of the MPAs). Marine protected areas safeguard endangered species and the ecosystems critical to their survival, from the spawning areas to the open water access which supports all aquatic life, and everything in between.

Most Marine Protected Areas allow for mixed uses and harvesting/fishing. Only a small fraction of MPAs – 2%-3% of US waters – are completely protected., fully monitored, and part of ongoing research. These are the reserves and sanctuaries. Between the MPA program and the reserves, we are close to protecting 30% of US waters, the goal the US pledged to achieve by 2030 (known as the ”30 by 30” goal).

Globally, there is a similar effort to protect 30% of oceanic waters, as a first line of defense and a clarion call to us humans about the deteriorating conditions of ocean warming, acidification, and pollution. Some of this is due to climate change and some to human overuse of ocean resources and poor stewardship. Our oceans cover 70% of the earth, and provide essential services to the entire planet: they produce at least half of the world’s oxygen and absorb 30% of its (human-sourced) carbon dioxide. We must do better. It is astounding that we’ve already depleted 90% of big fish populations and destroyed half of the earth’s coral reefs. We find ourselves at the proverbial brink.

Once again, a choice of podcasts. If you have internet access, you can listen to these programs. The first is for those who can’t get away to the ocean. It surrounds you with the sounds of the oceanic environment of Hawai’i, interspersed with interview segments with a marine biologist who has followed her passion to become a powerful advocate for environmental protection and civic engagement. She speaks persuasively about the fact that everyone can make a difference. This program transported me to Hawai’i, with the lulling sounds of lapping water and underwater audio clips. Find this one by searching the title.
Podcast: Environmental Health News (1/2022?)
Episode: Protecting Hawaii’s marine ecosystem: [~18 mins]

The second program offers more in-depth scientific content, without the soundscape, and spotlights scientists working at two different MPAs in Hawai’i. First, an area in the Hawaiian archipelago that is being redesignated as a marine sanctuary. It not only is one of the largest sanctuaries in the world, it also has (and I’m just guessing here), the longest name: Papahānaumokuākea. Hawaiians believe that all life springs from this area, and that all spirits return to it. I love hearing this word roll off the tongue of the scientists. The second featured MPA is the Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. You might find some commonality with our local forestlands, in the Protecting Hawaii’s marine ecosystem comparison of these two marine environments. One has lots of human exposure; the other is a pristine and remote wilderness.
NOAA Podcast: Diving Deeper (Dec 15, 2021)
Episode 64: Exploring Hawaii’s Coral Reefs [~29 mins]

Let me know if you have a podcast to recommend, or have a comment about my column, or have trouble finding a particular podcast I’ve mentioned. Happy listening!
[email protected]

Note: This column, part of a series looking at examples of positive climate action, state-by-state, first appeared in the Forest Press 07-13-2022. If you are interested in this state’s topic, check online for updated news, as a lot may have changed in a year.