By: OHA Trustee Rowena Akana
June 16, 1997
Governor Cayetano’s recent decision to enter into an agreement with the federal government permitting the creation of the federal Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Sanctuary was a big disappointment. This past May, the Board of Trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs voted unanimously to oppose the sanctuary. We shared the doubts that prompted Mayor Linda Lingle and other leaders to urge Governor Cayetano to veto the plan, and we also had reasons of our own.
Our Board has a duty to protect the public trust’s resources derived from public lands, including the submerged lands, the water surface, the water column, the seabed and all flora, fauna and minerals they contain. The legislation then before the governor, and in its present state, guaranteed us no protection with respect to the federal government’s use and control of these resources. As fiduciaries, we could not assume that the federal government would always exercise its authority over the sanctuary are in a manner consistent with the best interests of the Hawaiian trust. The Governor knew this, but unfortunately paid no attention to local concerns. Now OHA is saddled with “co-stewardship,” as the federal government’s Environmental Impact Statement calls its shared dominion over the submerged ceded lands comprising the sanctuary. OHA, of course, had enough problems dealing with one “steward,” let alone two.
My own opposition to the sanctuary goes beyond issues involving ceded lands, sovereignty and Hawaiian rights. I’m concerned with the potential for destruction. Like many modern scientists, the Hawaiians of the pre-contact ahupua’a knew that interference with nature’s delicate balance could wreck havoc with the environment. So traditionally they managed the entire eco-system rather than a single species. The wisdom of their ancient practices has been conf1rmed again and again. Recently, for example, I spoke to Colin Kippen, a Native Hawaiian judge for the Squamash Tribe in Oregon, about what happens when a single species reproduces to dominate its environment. Judge Kippen has listened to tribe members complain of the damage caused by an over-population of whales in sanctuary waters. He has seen where whale fecal matter has contaminated and destroyed clam beds and other sources of revenue Pacific Northwest fishermen, including Native Americans, used to depend on. The animals are so crowded that, tragically, they are beaching themselves in desperation.
In a press release, Governor Cayetano defended his decision to bring this disastrous situation to Hawaiian waters by, among other modifications, claiming to limit the sanctuary’s boundaries to half of what was originally proposed. Just how the limits will work is unclear given legal protections in place already. As an endangered species, the humpback whale cannot be approached within 300 feet in its habitat. Existing law does not confine that habitat to the 600 miles designated by Cayetano. Rather, the habitat moves with each whale which therefore enjoys a de facto floating sanctuary with or without the recently signed agreement between the state and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. To date, there have been no complaints that either boaters or fishermen have violated this space.
Why then was this unnecessary State-Federal partnership forced on us? The only justification seems to be the $800,000 to one million dollars for research and study projects. The Governor claims this chump change will, somehow, provide the State with an economic boost!
The Governor made the wrong call on the sanctuary by listening to the wrong people-green nazis, out-of-state marine biologists and animal rights extremist–rather than the Hawaiians who have worked, protected and loved these waters for generations. We need to remember this disregard for public opinion and to look for a change in 1998.