This Wednesday marks World Oceans Day (WOD), an official UN-designated day each year to raise awareness about the many issues facing the world’s oceans. The year’s theme is “healthy oceans, healthy planet.” This is fitting, considering the oceans cover 71 percent of the globe, and the health of the oceans directly impacts everything ranging from the air we breathe to millions of people’s livelihoods.
Given my internship this summer with Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), I’ve been trying to think about WOD through the lens of approaching ocean conservation in Hawaii, rather than on a global scale. Still, operating through the Hawaiian-lens is not that narrow, given that Hawaii and the U.S. Western Pacific Ocean in general is home to multiple islands that are each ecologically unique, require their very own management regime, and include many multicultural ocean users and stakeholders.
So, how do you work towards a healthy ocean in such a unique and vast region of the world?
For starters, you may look to one of the largest regional management groups. Last week, I had the fantastic opportunity of attending the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council’s (WPRFMC) 123rd Scientific and Statistical Committee (SSC) meeting in downtown Honolulu. The WPRFMC is one of eight regional fishery management bodies in the U.S., which conduct fisheries management and conservation in their specific region within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (U.S. EEZ). The SSC is an advisory group to the Council, reviewing scientific and technical fisheries information and providing management recommendations.
I attended the meeting for the purposes of sitting in on the protected species portion of the meeting in order to help inform the various reports I’m working on concerning protected species from a state perspective. Overall, it was fascinating watching the Council process in action, particularly since one of the courses I took this past year was Federal Fisheries Management and Policy, which focused on the Council process in the U.S.
The WPRFMC has an especially complicated role, since they manage fisheries in waters surrounding Hawaii, around the unique territories and atolls in the Western Pacific, and on the often remote and harsh high seas. At this meeting, the SSC seemed to have reviewed every single component related to fisheries in the Pacific, ranging from observer coverage, a new Pacific Islands Climate Action Plan, annual stock assessments, social surveys with recreational fishermen, and much, much more.
The weekend prior to the SSC meeting, I sat in on a series of talks on sustainable local resource management, including harvesting seaweed and collaborations with local fish ponds, in the small community of Sunset Beach on the North Shore. Mālama Pūpūkea-Waimea, a local non-profit, put on the event in partnership with DLNR’s Makai Watch, a collaborative initiative that encourages communities to became engaged with science and resource management. Attendees ranged from toddlers to retirees, and every single person at the event radiated with a passion for sustainably living off of Hawaii’s land and water.
At the end of the day, I realize that all of these organizations may differ in size and mission but all work towards maintaining a “healthy ocean, healthy planet” every day of the year. Whether one is working to manage fisheries across large swaths of an ocean or to study a local tide pool, let’s remember that every action is a step forward for the planet as we acknowledge World Oceans Day this week.