Marine Conservation in the Pacific

Bill Chandler, VP for Government Affairs, focuses on conservation during a recent trip to Hawaii

This March, VP for Government Affairs Bill Chandler made a trip through the Hawaiian Islands to advance our marine conservation goals in the Pacific, from species-focused efforts on the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal to the vast Pacific marine national monuments, including Papahānaumokuākea and the Pacific Remote Islands. We are pleased to update our friends on the progress of our Pacific Islands work, and deeply appreciate your continued interest and support.

Hawaiian Monk seals:

The Hawaiian monk seal is America’s only endemic marine mammal. With fewer than 1,100 monk seals remaining, this critically endangered species teeters on the brink of an irreversible decline. Marine Conservation Institute has advocated on behalf of the Hawaiian monk seal for years. Unfortunately, frustration on the part of native fishing communities and a misinformation campaign about the seal recovery program of NOAA have led to resentment against the monk seal, and even a few killings in recent months. Fortunately, there is also great love for the monk seal among most Hawaiians. During his visit, Bill met with the Hawaiian nonprofit community, both local and national groups, to discuss the seal’s plight. We and other nonprofits are gearing up for media outreach and public awareness campaigns to emphasize the seal’s history in Hawaii and its deep roots in Hawaiian culture.

Image courtesy of NOAA.

Both NOAA and the State of Hawaii are cooperating to bring the seal killers to justice. Marine Conservation Institute and a number of other nonprofits have pledged up to $30,000 as a reward fund for information leading the arrest and conviction of the killers. During his visit Bill spoke with the head of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources to better understand the agency’s concerns and priorities on the monk seals, and also met with staff in the office of Senator Daniel Inouye. Senator Inouye has long been one the monk seal’s greatest advocates in the US Senate. We are working with his staff and the rest of the Hawaii delegation to secure funds for monk seal rescues, management, and the implementation of the recovery plan.

Pacific Monuments:

Our four Pacific monuments cover large areas of the Pacific Ocean, but the agencies tasked with their management have staffing and resources that are insignificant for the task. We are working to support the dedicated law enforcement officers in the NOAA Pacific Island Regional Office by strengthening the agency’s long-range surveillance and enforcement capacity to detect illegal fishing and other threats. During his visit, Bill met with US Coast Guard and NOAA staff tasked with protecting the marine national monuments and America’s other marine resources. Marine Conservation Institute is working to push for increased funding and capacity for these agencies, and also strengthening international support for the monuments through the International Maritime Organization. Later this spring, we will host a workshop for Law Enforcement agencies in Honolulu, to hear their concerns and offer ideas on surveillance, enforcement, and compliance with the law protecting our vital fisheries, corals, and remote islands.
Image courtesy of NOAA.

In March, we also filed a legal motion to the Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce urging them to adopt emergency regulations banning commercial fishing in the Pacific Remote Islands, Rose Atoll, and the Northern Marianas marine national monuments. In 2009, President Bush proclaimed these three Pacific marine national monuments. As part of the proclamations, the Department of Interior and the Department of Commerce were tasked with developing a management plan, to include comprehensive fisheries regulations. The Proclamations unambiguouslyrequire the Secretaries to prohibit commercial fishing within the Pacific Monuments. Unfortunately, FWS and NOAA have failed to meet this obligation, and are now more than three years behind schedule. Without formal regulations, the marine ecosystem with its populations of corals, rare reef fish, whales, and seabirds are threatened. We hope that the Interior and Commerce departments will work with us to implement the Proclamations as they were written in 2009 and bar commercial fishing from the monuments before 2012 ends.

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument:

Bill also had very productive meetings with the superintendent of the Papahānaumokuākea  Marine National Monument, covering both the Hawaiian monk seal and other management issues. Marine Conservation Institute has had a long history working in these islands, including the establishment of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument (renamed Papahānaumokuākea) in 2006, the development of the management plan in 2008, and recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010. In 2012 we are continuing to advocate for sound, scientifically-based management and sufficient funding and staffing to preserve this marine treasure.

Image courtesy of NOAA.

In productive visits with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the National Wildlife Refuges on many of the Pacific Islands, Bill was able to make great progress advancing Marine Conservation Institute’s goal of removing two shipwrecks in Palmyra Atoll and Kingman Reef. These two fishing vessels wrecked in 1991 and 2007, respectively, and ran aground on the reefs. Since then, the boats have leached metals and other contaminants onto the corals, causing the growth of algae that is killing the coral and threatening the fish species. We are delighted that Fish and Wildlife Service is now committed to action on the shipwrecks, and we hope someday to announce their removal.

Image courtesy of Thierry Work, US Geological Survey.

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