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Why expanding Papahānaumokuākea is controversial

On Aug. 26, President Obama announced that the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM) will grow to 582,578 square miles, making it the world’s largest marine preserve. PMNM will quadruple in size, allowing protection for over 7,000 marine species living at the site.

The proposition will help preserve the organisms that are only found in the Hawaiian archipelago and allow fish stocks to replenish themselves.

U.S. Senator Brian Schatz, who submitted the proposal in June of this year, commented, “The other thing it does is that it continues to put us on the map with respect to leading on climate solutions.”

Expand Papahānaumokuākea, the organization that leads the way in enlarging the marine sanctuary, states that Papahānaumokuākea has a much larger meaning than just climate control. Native Hawaiians believe every piece of nature has meaning.

“All resources in nature – from corals to sharks – have cultural significance for Native Hawaiians and are an embodiment of our ancestors,” commented the coalition. They also hope that the expansion will show younger generations that preserving the environment is almost like preserving their traditions.

So why is there such a heated debate over the sanctuary?

Once the expansion goes into effect all commercial activities will have to stop. This presents a huge blow to the fishing industry. With over 60% of the Hawaiian waters preserved, it proves to be a challenge to catch the bigeye tuna, the main species of fish caught and exported from Hawaii.

“We do not believe the expansion is based on the best available scientific information. It serves a political legacy rather than any conservation benefits to pelagic species such as tunas, billfish, sea turtles, seabirds and marine mammals,” claims Kitty Simonds of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WPRF.)

WPRF are not the only ones who feel Obama overstepped his power. Obama used the Antiquities Act to approve the monument, as he did in Maine earlier this year.

The Antiquities Act allows presidents to create national landmarks by presidential proclamation, which most see as an overextension of power.

Obama has used this act to protect 548 million acres of both land and water to help promote a presidency of conservation.

Hopefully, despite controversy, this act will help protect the unique marine life in Hawaii and restore the vitality of the island’s ocean.

–Gianna Ceccarelli

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