In a tremendous move that has strengthened the regions' efforts for oceanic conservation, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) has been appointed as a co-trustee of the world's largest marine conservation area, the Papahanaumokukea Marine National Monument. But what is the the Papahanaumokukea Marine National Monument (PMNM) and why is it so important?
The PMNM is one of the largest marine conservation areas on Earth. It encompasses an area of over 139,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean and is located in the Northwestern region of the Hawaiian Archipelago. It is at least twice the size of Texas and was expanded in 2016 by then US President Barack Obama.
The diverse ecosystem within the moment houses many unique species of coral, birds, fish and other marine mammals including the green sea turtle, the Hawaiian monk seal, leatherbacks and hawksbill sea turtles. There are 23 different species found in the PMNM that are listed as being endangered with many more being considered. In total, the PMNM is home to over 7,000 marine species, a quarter of which are found nowhere else on earth.
Since the Polynesians traveled across the Pacific Ocean to settle on the islands, Hawaiians have used their own unique and elaborate natural resource management systems to survive in remote areas with few resources. Hawaiians continually foster deep cultural ties to their land and the sea and they believe in managing the land and the oceans as inextricably connected to one another. The Hawaiian belief is that it is their duty to cultivate whatever feeds them.
The name Papahanaumokuakea is an amalgamation of two well-known Hawaiian deities. Papahanaumoku is the mother figure, charactized by the earth, and Wakea is the father figure, charactized by the sky. They are considered to be the ancestors of Native Hawaiians and the parent-couple of the ruling chiefs of Hawaii. The word Papahanaumokuakea means ‘a sacred area from which all life springs’.