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From Miwa:

I wrote the little explanation below the other day to Uncle Bill Aila, Jr. in response to an email from him. Though it was written for him, I thought I would share it here on our blog, as others may have questions about KAHEA’s support of Na Koa and Koani Foundation in their request for intervention on World Heritage Site designation for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands:

First and foremost, KAHEA fully supports legal protections promulgated in the State Refuge and the Monument, including the prohibition on commercial fishing within 50 miles of the islands. We believe deeply in a vision of full conservation of the NWHI, as it represents a significant place of refuge for cultural practice, for native endangered species, and for some of the last predator-dominated reefs remaining on the planet.

However, as you know well (!), we have had, and continue to have, some deep concerns about management in the NWHI by the state and feds.  Including:

1) Lack of meaningful prioritization for activities in the NWHI, or of analysis of cumulative impacts (taking into account past activity–including legacy over-exploitation and military activity)
2) Weak and disorganized permitting – “unified” permit process not really very unified in implementation
3) No enforcement plan, failure to push for accountability/mitigations/appropriate limits on military activity in the NWHI
4) Lack of funding/focus on cultural access or study
5) No public advisory entity established for Monument and limited venues/opportunities for public participation on decision-making
6) Lack of collaboration:  Monument Management Board has not met in nearly six months? Multi-agency commitment to integrated ecosystem management getting lost on turf wars.

At the heart of this, is an exhibited inability for the co-trustees to collaborate effectively. Officials on the Federal side have acknowledged “some deep conflicts” which the Federal agencies are “struggling to resolve.” Though many are eager to take credit for the protections in place for the NWHI, implementation has lacked the political will to “make it work.”

We support Na Koa and Koani Foundation in their request for intervention for the following reasons:

In many communities, the decision to pursue a WHS designation comes only after years of conversation, debate, struggle and consultation. We are concerned that Native Hawaiian consultation on the WHS proposal was indeed inadequate, conveying unified support, when this is not in fact the case.

Further, World Heritage designation does not offer any additional enforceable protections for the NWHI. Indeed, over 30 World Heritage Sites are currently threatened with de-listing, due to poor management by those in charge, including the Belize Barrier Reef System and the Galapagos Islands. In an article written this past February, Goldman Prize winner John Sinclair heavily criticized Australian officials for neglecting conservation management for his beloved Fraser Island following its World Heritage designation, in favor of facility upgrades, and recreation management (e.g. widening roads) at the expense of “natural resource management, — environmental monitoring of wildlife and ecosystems, fire management, weed control, and quarantine.”

In many cases, this designation is used to promote tourism to a site (See http://www.expedia.com/daily/sustainable_travel/world_heritage/default.asp), which ironically increases the tourism impacts to the site intended for protection.

What World Heritage designation does offer is prestige and publicity. Prestige and publicity is not a need for the NWHI, as a great deal of public attention has already been placed on the protection of the NWHI. Indeed, a TIME magazine’s feature Earth Day article (Bryan Walsh) on oceans just last week noted NWHI protections as hopeful action in an otherwise pretty dismal picture of world-wide ocean resources management.

What is needed is not more attention or prestige. What is needed is accountable, integrated and cooperative management that puts the resource and the rightholders first.

Let’s do that–let’s get there–and we’ll have a place that can really be held up as an example to the world of how ocean conservation that strongly protects cultural practice can be done well.  This is our hope, and vision ahead of our efforts.

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