Phase: Currently in Production

In Hawaii, we again take up the focus on environmental regulation, why it is needed and the sometimes unintended consequences. 

The waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands have great biological as well as economic importance. To protect the region important fishing regulations have been enacted.   An example is a requirement for swordfish boats to use circle hooks on their lines in an effort to reduce sea turtle bycatch. While other regulations intended to protect a species, such as the ones in place to protect  False Killer Whales, can have unforeseen consequences.

There is a unique pod of False Killers Whales (Pseudorca crassidens) with a distinct territory in the Hawaiian Islands. They compete for the same ono, tuna, mahi-mahi and swordfish that are a prized commercial catch for U.S. fishing fleet.  With their prey species declining, the whales have learned a technique called "depredation" where they literally steal the fish off the lines once hooked.  Many whales were washing up dead on beaches - victims of shootings and fishing hooks in their stomachs. With numbers rapidly declining and extinction becoming a threat, they were given the Endangered Species designation. With it, strict regulations are in place that when triggered could mandate an early end to the fishing season.  While this would seem beneficial to stop the fishing, the demand for the fish does not stop. 

When the U.S. fishing fleet is not allowed to set their nets a 'transfer effect'  takes place. Foreign fleets set sail for areas just outside American EEZ zone to go after the same stocks that the US fleet is prevented from pursuing.  This creates a "loophole' in the system where non-U.S. fleets can then transport and sell the seafood back to American markets. The outcome being the prized seafood still ends up on plates in Hawaii, but only after undergoing a long environmentally harmful journey. The question becomes how do you balance regulation meant to protect a resource against economic exploitation by outside interests. In the islands, this question comes into play often.

Our findings draw out similar complex situations being confronted at other locations we visit in the Pacific. For example on Maui, developers planned to build a whole new city on the west side of the island. This planned development would be perched right above Olowalu Reef - a very unique and important area with old growth coral, that serves to propagate, or seed the reefs on neighboring islands. The project was successfully stopped. Scientists along with the local community are pushing to have this fragile reef designated a Marine Protected Area (MPA).   Carefully developing regulations with considerations for long-term economic and conservation goals have produced positive results. 

This concept is even being adopted by one of our 13 national marine sanctuaries - previously known as the Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. The Sanctuary has been renamed Hawaiian Islands National Marine Sanctuary—Nā Kai `Ewalu. The name change is part of a new focus on a revised management plan which highlights whole ecosystem connectivity and the need for an all-inclusive environmental approach rather than just focusing one single charismatic species. The establishment of the sanctuary combined with the cooperation of varied stakeholders highlights how a program can be successfully implemented. The current leadership is now incorporating the principles of Hawaiian Ahupua'a and integrating it into effective management practices. The focus is now a broad management plan to protect the health and population of all the marine species within the sanctuary.

The number of North Pacific humpback whales that migrate yearly to Hawaii has rebounded enough that a proposed delisting from endangered to threatened is under review.  Researchers hope to build upon this success while tackling the other major threats to the health of the species: marine debris entanglement, illegal whaling, ship-strikes and increased ambient ocean noise. 

Each area of the Pacific that we document in our travels is a microcosm of the competition for dwindling resources that is taking place across the Pacific. We hope to document how the Hawaiian concept of Ahupua'a resource management can be applied by local inhabitants in all the regions of the Pacific to be better stewards of their marine environments.