Born and raised in Hawaiʻi, I’ve spent the better part of my life dedicated to the ocean that surrounds me. This is why President Obama’s recent expansion of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Sanctuary off the coast of northern Hawaii, means so much to me.
I have voyaged thousands of miles of open ocean by canoe, guided by the sun, stars and swells, practicing the art and science of Polynesian wayfinding and navigation. This tradition and legacy of wayfinding goes back centuries in my culture. We have worked hard to bring it back from the point of extinction, and perpetuate it as a means for understanding our environment, our history, our culture, our future and our world.
On long voyages, surrounded by the vast blue ocean, we come face to face with the Hawaiian concept of “mālama ” — or “caretaking.” My ancestors learned long ago that if they took care of their canoe and each other, they would arrive safely at their destination. On islands, as on the canoe, we care for each other and our resources, and work together to protect that which is sacred and fragile — our Island Earth.
As I sail around the world, I’ve gotten a glimpse of what can happen to special places if they are not protected. Initiatives like the expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument help us perpetuate and build upon more than a hundred years of protection efforts by thousands of people in our community and around the globe. Thanks to their work to advocate for protection of this area’s cultural and ecological resources and thanks to President Obama, Papahānaumokuākea will become the largest marine protected area on earth. This is a step in the right direction at this crucial time for Island Earth.
Ours is a blue planet, and the health of our Island Earth and her people is dependent on the health of the ocean. If climate change and protection of biodiversity and wildlife are part of the biggest challenge of the 21st century, then ocean protection is the strongest solution. The expansion of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Sanctuary will help keep our waters safe — improving ocean resilience, helping the region’s distinct physical and biological resources adapt, and creating a natural laboratory that will allow scientists to monitor and explore the impacts of climate change on these fragile ecosystems.
Join me in celebrating the work of those who stand for and work to mālama our precious honua, who are caring for our Island Earth. And I’ll hope you’ll take the time to watch the President’s remarks on conservation from the Midway Atoll.
By Nainoa Thompson
Navigator, Polynesian Voyaging Society, reposted from the official Medium channel of The White House, 2 September 2016