OCEAN CONSERVATION EFFORT EXPANDS
A vibrant giant clam at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Line Islands in a photo released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The clam is rare outside protected areas.
Hawaii turns to other Pacific cultures for preservation advice
With its buzzing overpasses, fashionable shops and swarms of soaring building cranes, it seems illogical to describe Hawaii as behind struggling economies such as Pohnpei and Fiji in almost anything. But experts say the state has much to learn -- or relearn -- from its less developed neighbors to preserve its precious ocean resources.
"Things that these cultures have kept alive and know about now, we're just beginning to discover in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands," said Randy Kosaki, research coordinator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Marine Monument.
Oceania welcomed Hawaii back into the fold last week at an international forum in Honolulu attended by 20 Pacific nations and states discussing marine management areas and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site process for nominating new areas to be protected.
Pacific island nations are far ahead of Hawaii in terms of blending traditional ecological knowledge and Western science, Kosaki said.
In Pohnpei, when members of the grass-roots Conservation Society of Pohnpei wanted to create local preserves, they simply needed to ask local elders to point out where the fish spawning grounds are, he said.
But in Hawaii waters, those critical answers can only be gained by highly trained scientists conducting lengthy studies tagging and tracking targeted fish species to discover their "spawning aggregations."
"We're trying to reinvent the wheel using high-tech methods when these cultures have kept that knowledge alive for millennia," Kosaki said.
Harold Teves threw a net in May in the Napoopoo district south of Kona.
President Bush created the monument last year to protect the 4,500 square miles of coral reefs and more than 7,000 marine species among the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Federal and state authorities must now find ways to manage the massive area.
Islands of the Pacific are linked not just by culture, but also ecological and geological similarities.
Because of its political ties, Hawaii has historically looked toward North America for models. But in many cases a good continental model is inappropriate for the islands, where fish populations are gathered in discrete spots rather than along massive shelves extending down an entire continental coast, Kosaki said.
Among the vanguard of a current trend toward creating marine managed areas in the Pacific is Ratu Aisea Katonivere, paramount chief of the Fijian province of Macuata.
Katonivere decided to protect his province's reef after learning from a worker with the conservationist group WWF, known as World Wildlife Fund in North America, that the reef -- the third-longest barrier reef system in the world -- had global significance. Fishermen also were reporting progressively leaner catches, he said.
"So it was a big thing for us to mobilize a society to believe the vision of conservation is to do marine protected areas," Katonivere said. In January 2005, as Katonivere's local effort was moving forward, Fiji's government pledged to protect at least 30 percent of its waters by 2020. By November 2005, Katonivere and four other chiefs had created protected areas covering 32 square miles of Macuata's reef. Fish have already begun returning, he said.
The Solomon Islands' Marovo Lagoon, shown above in a photo released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is the world's longest double barrier reef in the Solomon Islands.
Inspired by Fiji's example, Palau, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands made a similar pledge last year called the Micronesia Challenge. Hawaii currently has a mix of several protected areas, such as Oahu's Hanauma Bay, and some managed areas where fishing for certain species is periodically banned or only certain methods, such as pole fishing, are allowed. The state also is working to put gillnet bans in effect for portions of Oahu and Maui. Macuata has had a ban on such nets since 1989.
"Again, we're learning from the Pacific. We're kind of the last one to come to this table for marine resource management in the Pacific, but it's about time," Kosaki said.