Rob Parsons

Giving Back

How you can promote our oceans' sustainability and health

By Rob Parsons
Published in Maui Time Weekly
February 08, 2007

The ocean is giving us so much. It's only right that we give back.

So says marine biologist Hannah Bernard, co-founder in 1996 of Hawaii Wildlife Fund. Whether you're surfing, paddling, diving, fishing or just gazing at the deep blue horizon, the ocean gives us more than we give back. In fact, scientific studies locally and worldwide indicate our oceans and nearshore waters are in grave danger.

Bernard, who has guided numerous marine environmental programs and efforts, is now promoting public awareness through this Saturday's "Malama Maui: Think Island, Think Sustainability" at Maui Community College (MCC). The free event will feature speakers, movies, music, booths, a Keiki Corner and more.

"Maui is at a turning point, a tipping point," Bernard says. "If we can take better care of Maui, maybe we can inspire all the other islands. It's up to all of us to sustain the health of our planet."

In 2003, Bernard and fellow marine biologist Ann Fielding co-authored, Maui at the Turning Point: Threats to Nearshore Waters and Coastal Lands and Strategies for Recovery. The report, underwritten by The Nature Conservancy, Hawai`i Community Foundation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), surveyed 40 key ocean users and kupuna. All agreed that our nearshore waters, marine life, reef ecosystems and water quality are in decline.

The "Think Island" strategy as a coordinated education campaign was one of several recommendations in Maui at the Turning Point. It extends the view shared by kupuna that the canoe is the island, and vice versa. The voyaging canoe can only carry a finite amount of resources, with the same being true of our islands and the planet as well.

Through environmental education, research, advocacy and action, Bernard has been building awareness for ocean issues for the past 25 years. She helped found the Maui Reef Fund, which accepts voluntary donations from the marine tourism industry to preserve the resource they share and to urge appropriate conduct for the industry.

She also helped establish Makai Watch, which is supported by Hawaii Tourism Authority, Castle Foundation and the Department of Land and Natural Resources. Makai Watch works to restore and sustain Hawai`i's coastal resources through community involvement. By placing marine educators at sensitive areas such as the `Ahihi-Kina`u Natural Area Reserve in South Maui, Makai Watch raises awareness, conducts biological and human-use monitoring and encourages compliance with area regulations.

Bernard has long advocated halting noise pollution in our oceans.

"What in the world are we doing blasting our oceans with sonar?" she asks. In 1993, with Earthtrust, she spoke out against U.S. Navy plans to deploy Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS) testing.

She said her father "empowered" her to do so. A retired Pentagon official, he spoke on 60 Minutes, saying the testing is unnecessary. Bernard has traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby against further LFAS testing. She applauds the work of the National Resource Defense Council, which has sued the Navy.

"Destroying the health of our oceans is a far greater threat to our national security," she says.

Then there's the projected launching of Hawaii Superferry, which Bernard predicts will kill whales. While calling for greatly reduced speed limits at a minimum, she added that the potential secondary impacts are, "so insidious and alarming." She detailed the systematic exploitation of sensitive marine areas for fishing, `opihi gathering and limu collecting by people from over-fished Oahu who have no allegiance to those areas.

"We have to examine whether or not all commercial scale uses of an island are compatible," she says. "We can't say yes to every business that wants to establish here."

The collection of fish in Hawai`i's waters for the home aquarium industry has been very troubling to resource managers and enforcement agencies. The Associated Press recently reported that the activity is, "loosely regulated across most of the state, where a government permit allows collectors to net as many of a species as they want, wherever they want, and whenever they want."

Bernard feels West Hawai`i has provided a good working model for a local resource council to guide decisions. Beginning in 1999, they have established Marine Protected Areas on 35 percent of the Kona Coast and have watched reef fish populations rebound. In a culture of finger pointing, it's important to bring people and groups together to manage the resource.

Another threat to Hawai`i's nearshore ecosystems is the continued use of lay-gill nets, which indiscriminately capture a wide range of fish and sea life. After years of public hearings by DLNR to assess the threat and to discuss the need to ban the monofilament gill nets, signing of new rules by Governor Linda Lingle appears imminent.

Yet House Bill 1578 and Senate Bill 1831 seek to have these proposed new rules reviewed by a cultural panel, which would likely delay this vital resource conservation measure even longer. Other proposed legislation this session would create a more equitable scientific and cultural review process for ocean issues, similar to the concept of the local resource council model.

The "Think Island" event will feature four award-winning films and several esteemed speakers. Donna Kahakui is the founder of Kai Makana, a long-distance paddler of many epic voyages, and is one of the event co-sponsors.

"The goal is for all of us to stand together in sending the message that we need to care for our ocean and each other," Kahakui says. She says her previous long-distance paddles have taken her across the other channels of the main Hawaiian Islands "on courses in Tahiti and New Zealand and along 55 miles of the Hudson River in New York."

Vince Lucero's documentary, Wahine O Ke Kai, follows Kahakui's one-woman paddle from Oahu to Ni`ihau and around Kauai. Through Kai Makana, all of Kahakui's long distance paddles are intended to increase ocean awareness and stewardship.

Kenneth Burgmaier's Wa`a Ho`olaule`a (Festival of Canoes) explores the journey of the canoe and master carvers from the Polynesian triangle. And Kat Tracy's Passing the Gift: Malama Honokawai will showcase the efforts of Ed Lindsey to restore Hawaiian culture in Honokawai Valley.

Jeff Mikulina, Director of the Sierra Club Hawaii recently completed training to present the information highlighted in Al Gore's, An Inconvenient Truth, which also screens.

"Many of us feel overwhelmed by the thought that being environmentally friendly is difficult or too expensive," Kahakui says. "'Malama Maui: Think Island's' vision is to empower everyone to make easy and economical changes in their lives to support the health of our islands."

Ultimately, Bernard would like to see these actions become a movement that grows increasingly popular, until it becomes our way of life.

"People also need to see the urgency," she says. "If we don't live this way, we can survive, but we won't live well."