In-person discussions wrapped up this week as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration considers whether to create a new marine sanctuary in and around the Pacific Remote Islands.
The agency held in-person meetings throughout the month of May in American Samoa, Hawaiʻi, Guam, and CNMI to gather public input on the proposal, which seeks to protect rare marine lifeforms and the pristine ecosystem in and around the PRI, and to preserve and perpetuate the cultural and historic significance of the area for so many Indigenous Pacific Islanders.
“We came to American Samoa to listen,” said William Ailā, Jr., a longtime PRI Coalition member. He feared the expansion of protections was being misrepresented after hearing from elder fishermen who feared depleted fish stocks and cannery workers, business organizations, and government officials who expressed a fear of losing the cannery.
The Pacific Remote Islands Coalition, which formed in 2014 to protect the cultural, natural, and historical legacy of these special islands, atolls, and reefs issued a press release update saying:
“Despite claims by the industrial fishing industry that a sanctuary designation in the area would significantly impact fisheries, science and data show that is not the case. A new study conducted by a team of interdisciplinary scientists at the Environmental Markets Lab (emLab) at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) independently analyzed fishing effort in the PRI using publicly available Global Fishing Watch data and found from 2013 to 2022, less than half a percent of the US purse seine and US longline fleets’ fishing effort happens inside the currently unprotected area.”
“We have had meaningful and important discussions with our cousins from across the Pacific,” said Hoku Cody, Campaign Manager for the Protect PRI Coalition, which submitted the sanctuary nomination. “Just like our ancestors before us, we believe that it is our responsibility to continue to fight for the protections of our ocean that connects and sustain us.”
The proposal being considered by NOAA would designate a national marine sanctuary for the area— about 777,000 square miles in and around the PRI— which would make it the world’s largest protected ocean area. The nomination calls for the sanctuary area to honor the cultural and historical legacy of these islands and atolls, preserve the area as an intact cultural voyaging seascape, and protect abundant populations of wildlife such as coral, fish, sharks, turtles, rays, whales, dolphins, birds, and other important marine ocean species in the face of threats like deep-sea mining, climate change, and overfishing.
The PRI reports that a national marine sanctuary designation “would not only ensure the highest protections for the ocean and marine life. This proposed designation also:
- Encourages a co-management structure that includes the voices of Indigenous Pacific Islanders in the decision-making process.
- Advocates for a culturally-appropriate process for renaming the area.
- Expands protections across the entire 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone in the Pacific Remote Islands Area around Howland and Baker Islands and Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll.
An additional virtual meeting is scheduled for May 31/June 1, depending on the time zone. Public comments are being accepted virtually, online, or by mail through June 2, 2023. Additional information on upcoming meetings and how to submit comments online or by mail, can be found here.