Welcome to the PAA Blog

Papahānaumokuākea 'Ahahui Alaka'i (PAA) is a ten-day experiential leadership program that brings together teachers, business people, policy-makers as well as potential community leaders interested in learning and being inspired by science and traditional knowledge management practices. Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument encompasses roughly 140,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean, an area larger than all the country's national parks combined. The area around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is an important safe haven for wildlife such as the threatened green turtle and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. ‘Ahahui refers to society, club or association. Alaka’i is Hawaiian for ambassador or leader. The Hawaiian word /acronym PAA means steadfast, learned, determined, strong, to hold, keep, retain.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010



By: Randi Kika Brennon

Well, I heard from my PA'A friend George last night. He's visiting Big Island from Houston, and he and his wife want to get together with the Big Island PA'A crew. Three of us, Linda, Al and myself, are dropping out of our day-to-day realities for a minute and having lunch tomorrow. We're bringing our families so that they can meet everyone, too. I'm excited and so looking forward to it.

It feels like we're finally moving into another phase, another shade of what it means to be a PA'A participant. As a group, we've been through so many phases already. The hopeful task of applying to the program set standards and expectations high. Hearing that we were actually given the opportunity to join this new but mana-ful tradition put in place a bubbling excitement, an eager, disbelieving anticipation. Actually getting on the plane to go to Honolulu brought all the emotions together, making the short jaunt between islands almost surreal. The three days on O'ahu pushed us together, rolled us around and put in place an instant, deep feeling of family, comraderie, us-ness.

Being on Kuaihelani took our group and plunged us to a whole new level of life experience. Our relationships with each other and with the 'aina deepened and strengthened. We pushed ourselves individually and supported each other universally. The group sucked unsuspecting Fish and Wildlife agents (yeah, you Tracey) and Midway workers into our vortex, binding them to us as well. I think we all quickly knew that finding words to do justice to our experience was always going to be a challenge.

Leaving Pihemanu was almost heart-breaking and makes my eyes start and sting even now as I remember that night. My heart was so full with the island, understanding that I was truly bound to the place for life. My mind was numb, not comprehending how we could keep going towards the plane and away from the birds, the ocean, the land. The dark, cold, uncomfortable plane ride back to Honolulu was almost poetic in its contrast to the previous ten days.

We were dropped back into our "regular" lives, some of us taking a few days to readjust, some of us diving immediately into new adventures. For me, the transition took longer than I expected...almost two weeks to feel really back in my skin and functioning. Our group stayed connected through Facebook and email. We shared pictures and thoughts and updates. We began to network and follow up on our ideas to work together as ambassadors for the NWHI. We made plans to see each other when we could.

I think that's the phase we are at now. Our PA'A group is ready to use our experiences over the summer to weave a long future of caring for the NWHI. Out of the blue (of course out of the blue...we're talking Norbert here), I got to see Norbert when he came to Hawai'i Island for a workshop. Seeing him was magical and surreal. How could he be just like he was on Midway Island? As we chatted and caught up, we realized that we have a whole group of mutual friends from years back; now we are bound together in past, present and future. As for the future, Norbert and I will be working together with Jen on a project this year with our students. Jen has graciously agreed to be on the board of the non-profit my husband and I are starting. I see Tanya when we participate in Eyes of the Reef activities. Marion and Tracy have agreed to try to come to Big I to help with a week-long campout with my students. Maya and Sarah are constant sources of good cheer and exciting adventures. Linda and I have a future date to get together for dinner with our families. All of us meet in cyber-space and bounce ideas off each other, introduce each other to new friends, and develop our projects. The enrichment and life-changing experience of participating in PA'A is laying the groundwork for a lifetime of stewardship of our kupuna, the NWHI.

And that brings me back to the phone call from George. We'll get together tomorrow and catch up. We'll share our families with each other, tell stories, take pictures. We'll meet again as the family we are, and we'll move steadily towards our common future. Our whole experience is like the hau that we worked on together on Midway. We have been chosen, just as hau bark is sifted through and chosen. We have been soaked in experience, just as hau is soaked in kai. We were stripped and massaged and molded, laid out in the Kuaihelani sun to mature. Finally we were twisted and bound into the cordage we are now, subtle, strong, beautiful. Tomorrow will be another hau strand, lovingly twisted and woven into the larger cordage that binds us together as Papahanaumokuakea 'Ahahui Alaka'i.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Our Ocean, Our Choice

Post for Saturday June 19, 2010

Our Ocean, Our Choice
By: Sarah Wilson

Every day on Midway we open our day with a special oli (Hawaiian chant) to prepare our group for learning and openness. One morning this week Nai'a mentioned how amazing it is we are here together by choice. We chose to apply for PA'A last winter, they chose to accept us out of their copious stacks of impressive people, and we all chose to fly to this remote island archipelago in the middle (and I mean MIDDLE) of the Pacific Ocean. So here we are on our last day together on Midway and we continue to reflect on our choices....our choice in how to carry this unique experience with us in our daily life and how we will educate others. Our sessions help provide us with the content knowledge we need, while our "free" time is our personal exploration and adventures around the island that definitely fosters knowledge and inspiration. One of our sessions was exploring change in our oceans health. Robin Kundis Craig is a fellow PA'A member, environmental lawyer and professor at Florida State University College of Law in Tallahassee. She spoke to us about climate change, Marine Protected Areas (MPA's), and how the law and governance is involved in the conservation of species and ecosystems. The ocean is facing a variety of stressors from overfishing to marine debris and these combined impacts can take their toll. Add to the mix a steady change over time in climate and the combined resource use stressors and this can cause serious damage to ocean ecosystems.

Environmental law does not regulate the environment, it regulates humans. The law has to be tied to direct and indirect effects of what humans do to the environment. It is easier to prohibit a particular behavior in advance, such as oil extraction in a certain area, than it is to mandate later on in the form of habitat restoration after an oil spill. When measuring ocean use, money value is placed on ecosystem services, or the resources that ecosystems provide. Across the globe $33 trillion is provided from ecosystems and 2/3 of that value is from ocean ecosystems. With this numerical value now placed on the value of a healthy ocean….it would make sense that we want and need a healthy and productive ocean. What are the management steps Robin recommends to have this?

1.Pollution prevention….all types of pollution such as large plastics, derelict fishing gear and large scale chemical discharge and every day runoff from land.

2.Fishing regulations that are more conservative than those found now.

3.Create global Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) which are similar to underwater national parks.

4.She advises most important is to admit that the old ideas of what is sustainability don’t work anymore and it is time for new ideas and new choices.

These regulations can contribute to a productive ocean…..but what about climate change? One major threat is the increase of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, and the ocean absorbs this CO2. This increase in CO2 in the ocean rises carbonic acid, making the oceans more acidic. Just like too much acid in the human body can cause issues it does in the ocean as well. From ocean animals forming week shells to coral skeletons growing at an extremely low rate ocean acidification has far reaching impacts.

So what are the top 2 things to practice to help reduce the combined harmful impacts the ocean is facing?

1.Use less…less plastic, less power, less driving.
2.Recycle plastics and papers and reuse items whenever possible.

Every day is a series of choices. What will yours be to help protect and restore the ocean?

Mahalo for joining us,

Links to learn more:
Avoiding Jellyfish Seas, or, What Do We Mean by ‘Sustainable Oceans,’ Anyway? Article by PA’A member Robin Kundis Craig Professor with the Florida State University College of Law. Visit the Social Science Research Network to read abstract and download complete article.


The Ocean Takes Care of Us, Let’s Return the Favor …The ocean is a vital resource that provides food, water, commerce, recreation, medicine and even the air we breathe. Today, our ocean faces unprecedented threats from pollution, trash, declining fisheries and multiple impacts from climate change.

National Geographic Ocean Portal
Visit our new ocean site to dive into all things blue! Explore the sea through our rich media collection, learn about ocean issues, news and how you can get involved in conservation efforts.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

PAA 2010 Reflections

Reflection #5
by Norbert Larsen

Pihemanu—sounds of birds, loud sounds of birds, coming from all around you. Everywhere you look there are birds! Not the fleeting flight of an `i`iwi across the canopy of an `ohi`a forest, nor the magical congregation of `apapane lighting upon lehua blossoms. Here are seabirds! Thousands upon thousands of seabirds! Nesting, fledgling, feeding, flying seabirds…everywhere…in the sand, in the grass, in the trees, soaring over the still blue water, sitting on eggs, dominating the sky hundreds of feet above, diving, clacking, gasping, waiting…. So many seabirds you can’t imagine it!

The color blue—surrounded by all shades of blue, coming from all around you. Everywhere you look there is blue. Blue reflected off a lagoon…shallows…coralline sand…onto the floating white clouds above. A blue sought by Polynesian voyagers heading for landfall. A tropical blue…uninterrupted by mountains green. This is a blue you have not seen…a blue that seeps under the pores of you your skin…seeps beneath your eyelids…sings a new song. Seeping still beneath your skin.

It has been about one month since I returned to O`ahu from our trip to Pihemanu. The images of that place are like a transparency overlay on my familiar landscape here at home, and at first I was completely astounded by the new way in which everything appeared. With the passing of time, this new dimension has woven itself comfortably, easily, naturally into the scenery I wake to every morning, and I’m newly aware how the environment in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands is our environment here. Pihemanu seems so far away, and it is, but we are just as isolated here in the middle of our Pacific Ocean, and nature rules above the bustle of the city.

A monk seal sleeps at the beach where I spend the afternoon, white fairy terns flitter in the trees at the park, puffy white clouds move gracefully across the mountains and out to sea, the shades of blue surrounding O`ahu are no less surprising, my swims in the ocean are in the same waters that surround Pihemanu.

It doesn’t take much for me to see thousands of seabirds flying through the ahupua`a of Waikiki…surely a sight that once graced this land…or huge ulua, and turtles and scores of reef fish gracing the offshore reefs. So much of nature has literally vanished from this landscape…for real…but the possibility of restoring nature exists for me now…where my hope has waned over the years, and I’ve tended to become more cynical and pessimistic about our future…this has changed…having spent time with an awe-inspiring group of individuals committed to making a difference in our communities has reinvigorated me and given me a “souped-up” sense of optimism!

Kuleana takes on a whole new meaning now…another layer unfolds. I molt like the monk seals. I shed my downy feathers like the fledgling moli. I grow from being an awkward juvenile into being a more graceful adult…soaring over the sea…being pono…doing what is right by nature. As the 2010-2011 school year quickly approaches, my mind is dominated by this new sense of mission that Papahanaumokuakea `Ahahui Alaka`i has given me. As daunting as this responsibility seems, I don’t feel alone. I know that there is a large community of people who “have my back”, and I feel very grateful and humbled to be in this position.

Mahalo na akua, and mahalo to all the amazing people who cleared this path before us, and to the beautiful friends with whom I shared such a unique experience on Pihemanu. Imua!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Reflections from the PAA Group

Reflections 4
By Maya Plass

So here I find myself “home.” I am 6000 miles from Midway and yet my home now encompasses this very small island so far away. Before I left to travel to Midway I was a little nervous, hugely excited, and uncertain of what to expect. I knew what was in store for me was going to be life changing. Ron (a previous PAA participant) effused the magic of Midway in every correspondence I had with him prior to the trip. Now, I am on the receiving end of the experience. I now understand some of where he’s been and where it has taken him. He said to me, “your heart, eyes, and spirit will never be the same,” they are not.

The trip was, as I expected, life changing and incredible – but I never realised how deeply the experience would touch me. I had never seen tropical, marine wildlife before – I’d never seen a turtle, coral reefs, spinner dolphins, or water so blue it seared into your soul. However, the thing that inspired me and surprised me were the incredible people I was to share my experience with. The moment I walked into the NOAA office and feet were bare, chants were sung and tears flowed I knew that not only was I blessed to be there, but I was even more blessed to share it with some phenomenal people. I have learned so much from them.

The words of Herb Lee, “Open yourself to the experience” ring through my ears and I hear them every waking day. As a result of this I am more open to conversations, “goosebumps,” and opportunities. I wondered if when I came home to the UK I might find it hard to adjust and hold on to my feelings. Sometimes in all honesty I do - when life’s demands press, but mostly they never change. Now, when I walk my eyes are wide open, I talk with my heart, and my spirit is soaring. The beauty of midway is outstanding, but returning home I saw it all here too. My perspective has changed, my life has changed, I have changed, but little around me has changed. It’s just a little more beautiful.

So what creates the magic of Midway? You need to take a dozen or so people with a common goal and passion, mix it with time to learn, experience, think, be, and laugh and shake it up with a little pier jumping and snorkelling; engulf it in Hawaiian culture and tradition, develop a few dreams and aspirations for better marine awareness, and collectively offer the support and encouragement to make those dreams a reality through faith and trust. As a result - you have pure magic.

My determination to use this magical fire to create change is burning strong, I want to keep that fire stoked. Whenever, I hear from my ohana (PA’A family) or look at my photos, or chant “Eho Mai” it burns a little brighter. At times I am a little daunted and have moments of doubt and I am reminded by dear friends to breathe slowly and enjoy the journey...not to rush it. My life is richer and the world is...fluffier and the possibilities for positive change shine brightly. I hope that we will all meet again soon to share, laugh and dream a little more.

I thought I’d feel far away from Midway back here in the UK but I’m not - everytime I do something to work towards my dream..... I feel a little closer. I am so lucky to have had this opportunity and to have met some wonderful people...mahalo nui to everyone on my journey.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Reflections from the PAA Group


Reflections on PA'A
by Robin Craig
from Waikiki, July 2, 2010

Before I was selected to participate in PA'A, I had devoted a large percentage of my law writing career to the issues of marine protection and to adaptation to climate change. Quite frankly, focusing on these two areas is often depressing--but they share the feature of being two legal areas desperately in need of more attention, and more hope. I found that hope at the Midway Atoll, located toward the far end of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

Three images of Midway remain iconic for me (only two of which I could adequately capture by camera). First and second were the abundance of life. While moli (albatross) chicks shared almost every aspect of our outdoor existence, the memory of birds that stays with me the most is that of the multitude of birds in flight over the islands that make up the Atoll, both Sand Island and Eastern Island. Terns, albatross, tropicbirds, and frigate birds played in the sky in unbelievable numbers, with terns and tropicbirds in particular often descending to near-earth to examine the humans walking and biking in what was clearly their domain.

A number of scientists, such as Jeremy B.C. Jackson, have tried to re-create a sense of the historic baseline of species concentrations in various ecosystems. They describe thick beds of oysters in New England and the Chesapeake Bay, turtles so numerous in the Caribbean that sailors could walk on their backs, clouds of birds so large that they could darken the skies. Only on Midway, however, have I personally experienced a true sense of what those kinds of concentration of life truly could be.

Equally important, however, was the relative ease with which those of us on the island could live with that life. Of course, there weren't many of us there (around 80, I believe), and our transportation was limited to feet and bikes most of the time, suggesting the potential value of population reductions and a less oil-dependent lifestyle elsewhere. It was amazing to me how quickly I got used to dodging moli chicks on my bike, and how much I welcomed the examination by the white terns, even though I understood that such examination generally meant that I was too near their nest or egg for their comfort.

The second image of this abundance came in the water, when we snorkeled the Atoll reef. The picture I've included conveys just a small sense of the amount and variety of life on that reef. With over 50% apex predators, these waters again convey a sense of how biodiversity-rich these ecosystems are "supposed" to be.

At the same time, however, Midway did not allow me to romanticize the struggle for survival that typifies most marine ecosystems, or to ignore the damaging legacy of human development and consumption. Plastic littered all beaches on Midway, in an amazing variety, from all over the Pacific. In 15 minutes one morning I gathered 18 fishing floats that appeared (from the writing on them) to be from at least four countries. Moreover, I was ignoring all the other plastic and glass trash I encountered, ranging from an assortment of cigarette lighters to whiskey and sake bottles.

In addition, dead and dying moli chicks were a regular encounter. Saddest for me were the living chicks with "droop wing," a deterioration of the flight muscles resulting from lead poisoning, the enduring legacy of the lead paint used on many of Midway's buildings during the war years. To watch these chicks struggle to move their wings, knowing that they had no hope of survival, was heart-wrenching, especially when I allowed myself to wonder how many would have made it but for the paint chips. Lead remediation efforts are in progress, and hopefully they will remove this toxic invasion from this living landscape.

Nevertheless, evidence of life's resiliency was also everywhere. For me, the most iconic image of Midway--and the one that is coming to stand in my mind for the whole worldwide struggle to preserve and enhance ocean biodiversity and overall health--is the lone endangered monk seal sleeping on the beach among the rusting metal hulks discarded by the military at Rusty Bucket. If these endangered marine mammals can make some kind of peace with Rusty Bucket, then perhaps there really IS hope for the oceans--and for the humans who depend on them--after all.

Reflections from the PAA Group

by Marion Ano

My Return: A First Reflection

I have to admit returning home gave me a strange feeling. We touched down on O‘ahu at about 3:45am in the morning and in the pre-dawn hours I yearned to be back on Pihemanu. After saying our goodbyes to each other in the parking lot, I thought most about how I would share my experience with others. It didn’t take long for reality to set in that I was home and in the dark I already saw it in a whole new way. As soon as I arrived to my house I turned on my computer and looked at my pictures. I could not stay away.

A week ago today, marks my first day on Pihemanu and I miss her smell, the birds, their young voices, the incredible presence of life, the mana (life force), and the ancient spirit of that place. To be honest, I have not fully digested the experience. The space and time to do so is not as readily available here, but I’m glad to have the opportunity to reflect upon it now.

The one thing that strikes me the most upon my return is how much we have destroyed our home and how amplified our presence is here. When I compare the dormant town of Midway to Honolulu, I notice the noise. I’m just so grateful for the quiet moments I had on Pihemanu where for the first time I heard the heartbeat of Mother Nature. I’m trying to be as cognizant as I can to stay with this feeling and remain a catalyst for my own change and to inspire others to do so as well.

The lack of wildlife here is piercing and the baseline has shifted so far. I think about that a lot more than I used to. I view Papahānaumokuākea as part of us, the pae ‘āina (archipelago), and I yearn for those mea ola (living things) that connected the entire chain. If we begin to seriously consider what’s missing here and why, we would work together to repair our connection to the pae ‘āina (archipelago) as nature had worked so hard to do way before our time. Maybe, these young islands can once again be as enchanting and powerful as they were millions of years ago. Could we live in a world where more would be respected and left alone? I hope to keep this conviction close to my heart as time begins to divide my attention. I’m trying hard to remain hopeful, for our children, grandchildren, and the honua that I love so dearly.

I’m anxiously awaiting my weekend trip to Ka‘ena point to see some of the seabirds and other wildlife. I wonder what they look like here and hope to share what I know about them with my ku‘u mau hoa makamaka (my dear friends) that join me.

I had a conversation with a good friend yesterday who has also had the privilege to journey to Papahānaumokuākea and we agreed that parts of the experience could not be captured in words or in a photograph. The only way I know how to hold on to the spirit of this journey is to humbly channel aloha ‘aina (love of the land) and remain steadfast to do all that I can to protect this pae ‘aina. There is no price, there is no cost, there is only love.

Special mahalo to the pae ‘āina, the PAA ‘ohana and facilitators, my family (especially Mom and Dad), my ku‘u mau hoa makamaka (my dear friends), my mentors, and my colleagues.

Me ke aloha no,
Marion Ano

Reflections from the PAA Group

Participants from the PAA group have been asked to sit, back, relax, and reflect on their journey at Midway Atoll. The first reflection to come in is by Al Braun.

by Al Braun

Flying a cardiac patient to Queen's Medical Center, I look out the window westward at the painted sky at sunset. My mind drifts back to our time on Midway Atoll. It's been a week since we returned, but it seems much longer.

Everywhere I looked over the last seven days there have been reminders of that special place: spinner dolphins in the water off Honokohau harbor, pictures of ulua in the doctor's office, coral on a show on the Discovery channel, and honu grazing on seaweed near the shore in Keaukaha. Each image evokes feelings and emotions that overwhelm me.

Not all of the feelings are positive. I see a myna bird carrying a piece of rubbish and think of moli chicks with their stomachs full of plastic debris accidentally fed to them by their parents. I walk through a store and see a plethora of plastic products. I wonder how many of them will eventually find their way to Pihemanu's shores.

My efforts to conserve resources, recycle, and be a more conscientious consumer have been exponentially increased. Sometimes I feel like I'm proselytizing when I tell anyone who will listen about the things I learned during this experience. When I talk about Hawaiian values, it's no longer some ethereal subject, but a practical way of life.

My life has been changed in ways that I never thought possible. I have embraced my past and look toward the future with hope and determination. I know I'll never be the same.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

moli chick

paddle feet
snapping beak

wings outstretched
flight at rest

plaintive call
sitting tall
wacky hair
style and flair

back to the sun
move as one

moli chick
what a trip!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Shoreline Walk

An evening walk in the waters of North Beach inspired this poem. My friends gathered in close conversation at one end of the beach, a monk seal mom and her pup lay at the other end of the beach. Noio families inspected my presence from the air, then landed on the water within arms reach. Albatross continued their silent, relentless landing and take-offs as they cared for fuzzy chicks. Sensed by all, noticed by none, I gave myself over to the silken waters and caressing sand.

gently sinking into waters too blue to describe

feeling the sand envelope my feet and the water embrace my neck

silken waters push, pull, nudge, hold

this blue is not blue...this blue is nowhere else but here

this blue is not blue...it is grey, beige, white, green, charcoal, everything but blue

the blue, blue sky is blue and meets these waters that are too blue to describe

moli soundlessly soar above my outstretched hands,

clear water drops falling from splayed fingers back to the blue

noio bob and swoop over my bobbing head

monk seals hump and ripple on white bright shores

these waters...that are too blue to describe...hold me

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Departing Letter from Pihemanu

Aloha mai e kuu mau hoa makamaka,

Tonight is the last night I will sleep on Pihemanu. In all honesty, I'm not ready to come home. A few of the PAA ohana are still awake in the lobby of Charlie Barracks with me as we cherish our last night together and hang onto this space and time. Earlier tonight, the crew shared some beers and good laughs, the kind that make your stomach hurt so bad that you realize that you haven't laughed that hard in a while. And you suddenly realize you have exactly what you need, no more and no less. In under twenty four hours we will all be in our seats on the the plane (G1) heading for O'ahu.

To me, Pihemanu is a work of art. Everywhere you look it is virtually impossible to deny her beauty. In many places around the atoll, her abundance, wealth, life, and depth is juxtaposed against a history warfare and military occupation while Midway atoll served as a strategic battleground and front in the middle of the Pacific in WWII and the Cold War.

There is not a single person on this trip that allows a way for the wonderment, aloha (love) and fascination for this place escape them. Each individual's experience is the same in this way. In fact, as our time here progresses we arrive with new questions and inquiries like any young child would. So, what this means is on Pihemanu we're granted a second chance, maybe third to start all over again and rediscover a new place through the eyes of a child. Some of our questions can be answered with simple facts and others may require us to ponder. To say the least, it has become easy for me to forget about my life back home which affords me to look inward and re-examine my kuleana as a Native Hawaiian, marine conservationist, educator, lifelong student, and global citizen. But, I remember each day that these moments are precious and I trust that my kuleana that builds upon the southeastern horizon is something that I can fulfill in this life.

The focus of my inner dialogue brings me to share a few things with you about my relationship with the kai (ocean). My earliest memories of the ocean take me back some twenty five or so years ago. I remember my father, holding me with his hands under my belly instructing me through my first series of swimming lessons. I must have been instantly drawn to the water because I have never fallen out of love with the ocean. As a child I also have fond memories of snorkeling at Hanauma Bay and it was there where I first discovered life below the surface. At that time, visitors to the bay could still feed the fish with little pellets they used to sell there. As most of you know, times have change and people can no longer feed the fish. For those of you who live in urban Honolulu, I encourage you to visit this special place. As the ocean's baseline continues to shift for the worst and fish stocks and coral health decline pu'u honua (refuges) like Hanauma and Papahanaumokuakea remind me of the power of protecting a place in perpetuity for its biological, cultural, and social significance and its power to heal not only nature but mankind itself.

When I am in the ocean whether it's surfing, paddling, fishing, snorkeling, swimming, or diving I feel that my great grandfather is with me. He was a man of the ocean and my father and uncles speak admirably about their grandfather who knew so much about the place that he loved. It is only later in life that I began realize that it's not a mere coincidence that I find myself in the same line of work my grandfather was doing as a fish and game warden some 50 to 60 years ago. As my dear hoa (friend) and fellow PAA member, Nai'a, shared, "[we] don't get kuleana from no where".

And so, my journey to Pihemanu is related to my genealogy which for me includes all my ohana (family), ku'u mau hoa( dear friends), my new PAA ohana, and countless others who put tremendous time and energy into mentoring me. My only hope is that I'm able to represent you well here and bring you as close as I can get you to Pihemanu. And so in my last letter to you before I depart from this remote atoll that lies in the great expanse of the Pacific Ocean, I will try my best to take you on one of my journeys into her waters.

There are two places on the atoll where we may explore the underwater world here. All other beaches are reserved for species that are endangered. The light blue waters off of North Beach are the most inviting waters I've ever seen. Conversely, the cargo pier, towards the eastern side of the atoll is an artificial marine habitat created several years ago through the creation of a channel to bring big ships to the atoll. Just a few feet from the sandy shores of the cargo pier, it drops off 50 to 60 feet and gives the feel of a blue water dive. The underwater experience at the cargo pier is a rare one. It feels like a kaleidoscope, so many things happening all at once, and when the much welcomed rays of sunlight illuminate the eerie and murky waters under the pier one feels a little more inviting. The fish are abundant, some are familiar to me, many are not, and some are really big. And so in this manmade habitat there is a mixture of nearshore and deeper water fish species that coexist. In all my time spent diving reefs around the main Hawaiian Islands, never have I seen fish in such abundance in a small concentrated area.

If I count all the hours and pictures I've spent snorkeling under the pier it probably adds up to something like two hours and 800 pictures. All that Pihemanu has revealed to me is not an accident, its a combination of our pule (prayers), the power of intent and manifestation. And so I will leave you with this short story about a special fish to me.

Last week Monday, during PAA's visit behind the scenes of Bishop Museum's incredible fish specimen collection, before exiting the room I kindly asked our guide if they had a preserved specimen of the hapu'u fish. Since it's been virtually fished out of the main Hawaiian Islands and the primary reason why it is such a rare sight, I thought here's my chance to see what it looks like in "real" life. Yesterday, not even ten minutes into our daily snorkel under the pier, I came across the hapu'u not knowing it at the time, got close to it and snapped a photo. After downloading my photos and looking through them (as we obsessively do here on Pihemanu), I found that shot and a sudden feeling of "chicken skin" came over me as I realized what I had seen today. This is life on Pihemanu. Every experience and moment on is a gift, is precious, and is teaching each of us something.

I wish I could share all my stories with you and I look forward to sharing more with you in person. I will see you all soon.

"He wa'a, he moku, he moku, he wa'a"

me ke aloha no,

To be in that blue

So, in looking through my nifty little notebook that Linda got for us, I came across a scribbled thought I had luckily jotted down. It's a thought that came to me as I reflected on our trek to Eastern Island. As we were walking across the middle of the island, I saw that magical blue of the lagoon reflected off the flat bottoms of the clean, white clouds overhead. At first I thought it was my sunglasses, or my eyes tired from the sun, but Nai'a assured me that I was seeing a traditional indicator to sailors that land was near. Something shifted in me as I looked up at that distinctive, invigorating, soothing blue.

A day later, I remembered that blue when I heard Norbert express his yearning to "be in that blue" as he looked out at the ocean at North Beach. To be in that blue...

Maybe a mission for us? To be in that blue. This is what I wrote in my notebook: just how the clouds reflect the blue of the atoll, and serve as indicators that the atoll is there, so we PA'A ohana members can reflect that Papahanaumokuakea is here...and irreplaceable...through sending out our own beautiful, distinctive, alluring light unique to our experience. We can stand as beacons, ambassadors for the 'aina and the sea that surrounds us. We can continue to be in that blue, and encourage others to recognize and be in that blue as well...

Headed for the Reef!

We were so fortunate to get out to the reef for a snorkel. I succumbed to the phrases that kept rolling through my head during our adventure ("unreasonable blues" "freefall of trust" "humans haul out" "a smile gifted back to the giver") and wrote a quick poem.

bodies sausaged into neoprene,
zippered spine traces human spine

unreasonable blues
in an ocean meant for everyone but us

my smile given back to me in sunglass lenses
perched over other smiles

ocean spray christens us
as we grip metal poles and perch on skinny benches

freefall of trust into cold clear waters

kupukas of coral rest stoically,
impervious to our praise

breathing calms

limbs stretch

pulses slow

life deepens

humans haul out onto shiny metal ledges

the giant ulua travels past,
unimpeded, unimpressed

my smile is given back to me by the caress of the wind,
the warmth of the sun,

the silence of my friends

Chris's Poem

This opportunity to spend precious time on Midway Island has deeply affected all of us. Chris was unparalleled in seizing every opportunity, exploring every corner, connecting with people and creatures and the land the whole time we were there. He blessed us all with the following poem as a gift right before we jumped on the plane to leave. I know I was doing pretty well with managing my emotions up to that point. Chris's poem touched us all, and his open heart while sharing it touched us even more. Thanks so much, Chris.

We started many months ago on this magical tale,

Oh what joy we all felt with our acceptance in the mail.

We all arrived from near and far but we found the way,

Nervously gathering the first time at Hanauma Bay.

Through meetings, sessions and field trips our comfort levels grew

Remembering names and faces, these strangers we know knew.

Bishop Museum was fantastic as we made the rounds,

Then off to the airport where we stressed about our forty pounds.

Our flight was fun with Subway grinds to help provide a spark,

Then touching down on Midway, we reached here after dark.

From day one our days were filled with awesome things to do,

And when we thought it couldn't last, it got better with day two.

Cruising on our awesome bikes we explored both far and near

And everyday we added names of those who jumped the pier.

Eastern Island was unreal, its heyday of the past

With the help of those today its history will last.

Snorkeling out on the reef, boy, what can I say

Unreal feelings of another world, as the fish came out to play.

Sunrises and sunsets are a million dollar view.

How lucky are all of us? Each day we get to see the two.

Birds on the road, birds in the water, birds in the air

I'm so glad they're friendly, or that would be a scare.

Albatross and Monk Seal talks were given by the crew.

These lectures and the tours helped us learn so much that's new.

Thanks to Tanya, thanks to Nai'a who helped to get us through

The various assignments that we've done and those we've yet to do.

Tracy, thank you very much, you've been the very best!

Once we leave I surely hope you're able to get some rest.

Linda, thank you oh so much for getting all of us here.

It should be a lot easier when we return next year.

Unfortunately, our time is short as we wait for our ride

But luckily we've already checked with Toy for a place to hide.

I'm saddened as our wonder time we now see it ends.

I'm deeply honored to be able to call you all my friends.

Chris Baird

Cultural Component

E hō mai ka ʻike mai luna mai ē,
ʻO nā mea huna noʻeau o nā mele ē
E hō mai, e hō mai, e hō mai ē

Give forth knowledge from above
Every little bit of wisdom contained in song
Give forth, give forth, give forth

Cultural Component for PAA Program
by Al Braun

This oli (chant) by Aunty Edith Kanakaole was a fitting beginning to the cultural component of PAA 2010. It is impossible to separate the cultural roots of Pihemanu (Midway Atoll) from its story. Unlike other modules during PAA, the cultural component was woven throughout the entire experience, giving additional insight and perspective to the study of Pihemanu’s history, as well as, it's expected future.

In preparation for our journey to Pihemanu, we spent three days on Oahu learning, growing, and giving to the ‘aina (land) that would ready us for this life changing experience. We learned of the Hawaiian values that are essential for survival on a wa’a (canoe) or a moku (island). These values I was taught as a child resonated with new meaning in this paradigm. Mālama (caring), laulima (working together), kuleana (responsibility), ‘imi’ike (seeking knowledge), aloha (love), na’au pono (doing right), and loko maika’i (sharing) are all needed for a successful voyage, whether that journey is navigating across the Pacific, or navigating a course toward a sustainable future.

We also spent time in Bishop Museum's Hawaiian Hall, where we learned of the culture of a people who crossed the ocean to the world's most isolated archipelago. In the Bishop Museum's archives rooms, we viewed archeological evidence of Hawaiians found on the Northwest Hawaiian Islands of Nihoa and Mokumanamana (Necker Island). We were also able to see examples of kapa, cloth made from wauke (paper mulberry) bark, the scent of which awakened memories of seeing kupuna (elders) making it when I was a young boy.

From Oahu, we travelled on to Pihemanu. When I stepped off the airplane, I was overwhelmed by a sense of awe that I had arrived where the spirits of ancient Hawaiians travelled after leaving this world. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands were known as Po, the region of primordial darkness where the spirits return after death. This has been a sacred place for generations, and the mana (spiritual power) of this island resonated through and around us.

Throughout our time on Midway, as we absorbed the mana (power) and beauty of Pihemanu, I received many hō’ailona (signs of nature) that spoke to me to pay attention. It was not surprising that in such a sacred place, the messages of the spirit world can transcend the boundaries of the physical world. Ancient Hawaiians knew this to be true, and with each passing day, I became more attuned to the messages being delivered.

Much too quickly, our time in this special place came to an end. The connections I made with myself, my friends, the ‘aina, the creatures, and my ancestors were life-changing. Before departing, I knew that I needed to make a ho’okupu (offering) of thanks to the island in the tradition of my ancestors. My prayer for Pihemanu is one of healing for her and our world.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Monk Seals

Monk Seals
By Doug Schmid

Many of us feel a special connection with our marine mammal cousins and here at Midway we have been privileged to see the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal (Monachus schauinslandi) daily. Starting on our first day here we have seen monk seals cruising along North Beach, hauled out on beaches, swimming by our kayaks, and under the pier at Eastern Island. One mother and pup have been frequently resting and rolling in the water among the metal debris the Navy left behind at a point called Rusty Bucket.

Wherever we have seen them, their liquid grace and smoothness of movement have stopped us in our tracks. Yesterday, some of us observed a mother and pup hauled out near the cargo pier when another adult attempted to approach. The mother's immediate sharp response, with a loud vocalization and lunge at the newcomer, seemed to us a strong example of a mother protecting her baby, something that touches us all.

This morning Brenda Becker, a NOAA researcher, and Mimi Olry, from the State of Hawaii Department of Natural Resources, shared their knowledge about these unique and charismatic animals with PAA. There are only an estimated 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals left in the world, with most of them living in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument) and they are in trouble.

Brenda has been studying these animals since 1985, often at remote camps on French Frigate Shoals and other atolls. Between 1958 and 1976 their numbers decreased by 50 to 66%. They were listed under the Endangered Species Act and with that protection here at Papahanaumokuakea their numbers expanded. Unfortunately there has been asignificant decline since about 1998. The population is now declining at 4.5% a year and overall they have lost 70% of their population in the last 50 years. The problem seems to be one of lack of nutrition for the juvenile seals. They are underweight, not as robust and many starve and die before adulthood. Females are giving birth and are able to nurse their offspring, but after they are weaned, many of the young seals are not able to find enough food to survive to be the next generation's adults.

It is now believed that changing ocean currents are causing a decrease in productivity in this area and so there is less food for the monk seals. The adults may be skilled enough, experienced enough, to catch food with reduced prey populations. The juveniles on the other hand, just starting life on their own, without an abundant food supply to support their mistakes and early trials at catching their food, are in trouble. Emmaciated juveniles are increasing dying in the NWHI. French Frigate Shoals is also experiencing Galapagos shark attacks on monk seal pups. Since it may be only a few sharks killing pups, in this limited area, it may be possible to control the situation by carefully removing the individual sharks who have learned to "key in" on the vunerable young pups.

It is the ongoing research by NOAA, which looks to tag every individual seal, that has allowed this picture to emerge. The efforts of people like Brenda, living for months at a time in tents on the atolls of the NWHI, have allowed them to understand the lives of the seals. These are amazing animals, with the ability to hold oxygen in their muscles, to dive deep and see in the dark depths. They can move along the entire archipeligo, crossing the distances between the atolls and islands.

Our guest speakers also shared a video from the "crittercam" that was temporarily afixed to the back of one adult seal. This instrument recorded depth and showed the seal diving and filmed its foraging behavior. It was a real surprize to the researchers to see the seal passing by the shallow reef environment and spending its time deep- over 60 meters. Here it actually "rooted" around in the seabed, through sand and rubble, turning over rocks with its head and catching octopus, groundfish and eels. The large predator fish kept it company, perhaps looking to snatch up a meal from the seal's work.

Mimi handles coordianting monitoring efforts on the main Hawaiian Islands and shared some of the issues they face there. In an encouraging sign, the monk seal population is increasing in the main Hawaiian Islands. Over 20 pups were born last year. Although the good news is that seals are reproducing in ever greater numbers there, they are coming into contact with people, often with deadly results for the animals. Drowning in nets, getting hooked, being entangled in our garbage, lines or fish traps and being disturbed on beaches as they try to rest are problems. A pregnant female was recent shot. When a species is as endangered as the monk seals, every individual becomes even more precious and important to the chance the species has to continue to exist. After 15 million years of living on this earth, swimming these waters before the main islands were created, long before we came, they now are trying to hold on. I think we all were touched by Brenda and Mimi's knowledge, strong commitment and passion.

So the monk seals are coming to the main islands. Brenda called the islands the new "baskets of hope" for the species. We'll have to coexist, to make room for them on our beaches, and make changes to our behavior, like using new hooks. It's been said that in the end people will only save what they care about. Will we care and make room for these ancient animals?

Mimi's DNR group is always on the lookout for seals showing up on the main islands. They encourage anyone spotting a seal to call 220-7802 to share that information.