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Bountiful oceans support us in uncertain times

Viewpoint

COVID-19 has taken a toll on families and communities across our ‘aina. It has also provided an unexpected respite for our oceans. In Polanui where I live, we have some of the lowest fish biomass in the state. Pollutants in our ocean exceed recommended limits set by the State Department of Health. Our precious reef, Na Papalimu O Pi’ilani, is struck more than 900 times a year by snorkelers and recreational users on kayaks and stand-up paddle boards.

That was our normal before COVID-19. But with the tourism industry shuttered and beaches closed since late March, we are seeing a much cleaner and more vibrant ocean, with monk seals playing freely in shallow waters and bait fish swimming close to shore. This glimpse into what can be offers me hope for a more abundant future. It also forces us to ask ourselves what we can do differently to restore long-term health to our oceans.

What we are doing at Polanui is embracing our kuleana and contributing to positive change by taking care of our own place. Successfully caring for our resources can be felt, seen, and experienced in places across the islands. I look to Hui Malama O Mo’omomi on Moloka’i and Kipahulu ‘Ohana in East Maui as communities that have put their places first. Both organizations are part of the Maui Nui Makai Network, a group of 10 communities and partners across Maui Nui exerting our kuleana to care for the ocean in a way that honors our kupuna and the traditional and cultural practices of our places. We work to protect and restore coastal and marine ecosystems for the people of Maui Nui using powerful place-based, collaborative strategies. While each of our groups works individually, we strive to make big changes collectively and help our movement to grow across all of Hawaii.

At the World Conservation Conference in 2016, the State of Hawaii announced new measures to be taken to protect our island resources. Part of that promise was to effectively manage 30 percent of our nearshore waters by 2030. But the state alone cannot do this, making community-based co-management with groups like those in our network a necessity. Our communities have personal ties and long-term interests in ensuring the sustainability of our places. Our knowledge, expertise, and kuleana are critical to achieving the state’s goal and ensuring that generations to come inherit a thriving, vibrant ocean.

Right now I am thinking about our keiki and the example we are setting for them. They are tomorrow’s leaders and they are watching to see what happens when the threat of COVID-19 subsides. This pandemic has hurt our communities. What can we do differently to help them heal? Can we temper our short-term economic desires for long-term resilience by taking better care of our ocean resources and our people? Can we shift from a mindset that promotes continued exploitation and economic growth to one that promotes a balanced approach with equal emphasis on caring for our environment, resources, culture, communities, and long-term interests? Can each of us do our part to create positive change in our own place? Change is needed, and our communities have valuable voices to contribute and an important role to play in the success of rejuvenation.

We are taught that the ocean is our life, it is where we come from. We are taught to malama i ke kai a  malama ke kai  ia ‘oe, to care for the ocean and the ocean will care for you. Now more than ever, we need to take care — of our oceans, ourselves, and eachother. Embrace the change. Practice kuleana. Imua.

* Edwin (‘Ekolu) Lindsey is the co-founder of Polanui Hiu, a community managed makai area grassroots movement focused on bringing back balance to marine resources and reinvigorating the spirit of the people that utilize them, and the 2020 chair of the Maui Nui Makai Network. He is the president of Maui Cultural Lands, Inc. and involved in several community advisory boards speaking for those that cannot (coral, fish, pohaku, plants and kupuna).

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