Editor’s note: The effort to secure strong protective measures for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) in US waters, culminating in President George W. Bush’s proclamation of the 362,000-km2 NWHI Marine National Monument (MPA News 8:1), involved many organizations, politicians, scientists, resource users, and others. The substantial support in favor of no-take regulations from Hawaiian residents and organizations was instrumental in influencing the direction of state-level planning for NWHI waters (MPA News 6:11), and was cited by President Bush in his federal-level decision.

Among these proponents of protection, one organization took a comprehensive approach to advancing the issue. The Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-profit organization (formerly a foundation), launched an 18-month multifaceted campaign to build local and national support for NWHI protection, with assistance from other philanthropies (the Lenfest Foundation and the Sandler Family Supporting Foundation). Joshua Reichert, director of the environment division for the “Trusts”, agreed to outline some of the activities encompassed by the organization’s NWHI initiative to MPA News.

Reichert’s essay below provides an illustration for all stakeholders, no matter their stance on MPAs, of an unusually wide-ranging and aggressive advocacy campaign, the style of which is not often seen in the MPA field. MPA News hopes in future issues to feature the perspectives of others involved in the NWHI designation process – or in other MPA processes worldwide – to show how multiple styles and scales of support can be effective in informing policy actions.

By Joshua Reichert

There are few ocean areas under US jurisdiction established as no-take marine reserves, and fewer still of large enough size to be ecologically meaningful. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) offered a unique and unparalleled opportunity to establish an ecosystem-scale reserve, one in which extractive activities could be prohibited and natural biological processes could progress unaltered by direct human interference.

From the late 1990s, prior to the Trusts’ involvement, local conservation groups in Hawai’i engaged in important work to protect the NWHI. They devoted significant resources to help develop and promote actions by former US President Bill Clinton to designate a large “coral reef ecosystem reserve” over much of the NWHI [MPA News 2:6], and nursed the site through the initial stages of a multi-year management planning process. They also successfully convinced the Governor of Hawai’i to close state waters (0-3 nm around all emergent lands) in the NWHI to all commercial activities, a significant achievement. If not for their technical expertise, strong grassroots organizing, and dogged determination, the concept of establishing a monument fully protected from commercial and recreational fishing would not have existed.

This being said, as the result of an internal analysis conducted in early 2005, staff of the Pew Charitable Trusts concluded that the NWHI-related efforts of these organizations were not likely to be sufficient in themselves to accomplish the goal of ending commercial fishing in this area. While at least six organizations had staff focused on the NWHI, no one worked on it full time. No person was exclusively devoted to the task of developing and overseeing a winning strategy adaptable to changing political conditions, and capable of overcoming obstacles and taking advantage of opportunities. The individuals most familiar with the issue all had multiple projects on which they were working, causing them to split their time, attention, and available resources devoted to this effort.

The Trusts determined that various activities were needed to increase the prospects of achieving the goal of a no-take marine reserve for the NWHI. From January 2005, the Trusts took the following steps:

  • Hired an experienced conservation advocate/biologist to become the Trusts’ NWHI director; he was also a former senior member of the Trusts’ environment division. His mission was to help coordinate and focus existing environmental efforts to ensure that federal agencies adopted the most protective and conservation-oriented management measures possible, including an end to commercial fishing in the NWHI. In addition, the Trusts expressed a willingness to lead an effort, currently underway, at crafting a buyout package to facilitate the permanent retirement of existing commercial fishing permits in the NWHI.
  • Provided two full-time professionals to assist Hawaiian organizations in demonstrating to state political leaders the extent of support in Hawai’i for NWHI protection. One individual focused primarily on grassroots development, while the other conducted media outreach.
  • Hired a respected communications/media firm in Hawai’i to reach out to businesses and organizations not typically sympathetic to conservation concerns.
  • Hired a media consultant to assist conservation groups in their efforts to create an “NWHI Network” of organizations in support of protection (http://www.nwhinetwork.net), and to prepare and disseminate press releases and conduct other outreach to media.
  • Launched an effort to engage Hawaiian chefs, who represent an economically significant sector of the island economy, in support of fully protecting the NWHI archipelago.
  • Encouraged a study at the University of Hawai’i looking at the economic impact of a fishery closure on the Hawaiian economy, restaurants, and consumers. This study was designed to assess the likely economic impacts of ending commercial fishing in the NWHI and to disseminate this information to political leaders and the public.
  • Engaged a prominent retired judge to lead a professional team to begin outreach and buyout negotiations with the eight bottomfish permit holders.
  • Contracted with several legal experts to investigate specific fisheries-related issues including information on the NWHI fishing permits, agency actions, and NWHI fisheries regulations.
  • Worked with a number of members of the Hawaiian legislature to help educate other political leaders.
  • Worked with Washington, DC-based conservation partners to ensure that recreational fishing organizations were fully briefed on the NWHI issue and that their questions and answers were fully addressed in advance of the President’s decision.

Again, without years of organizing by local conservation groups and the development of broad-based political support in Hawai’i, this action by the President never would have happened. The Trusts were pleased to be able to work together with these organizations in helping create a positive political climate that greatly facilitated the decision by the President to protect this spectacular place.

For more information:

Joshua Reichert, Pew Charitable Trusts, 2005 Market St., Suite 1700, Philadelphia, PA 19103-7077, USA. Tel: +1 215 575 9050; E-mail: jreichert@pewtrusts.org; Web: www.pewtrusts.org