Native Hawaiian Scientists Travel to Papahānaumokuākea


In late July, a hui of Native Hawaiian scientists departed from Kāneʻohe Bay on a 15-day scientific research voyage into the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM). The voyage was supported, in part, by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Sailing aboard the Makani ʻOlu, a 96-foot, triple-masted schooner, 12 Native Hawaiian researchers visited Nīhoa, Mokumanamana and Lalo (French Frigate Shoals), the monument’s eastern-most islands.

“OHA is proud to support some of the most brilliant scientific minds of our lāhui, whose research in the kūpuna islands in Papahānaumokuākea will help us create better management strategies to deal with climate change and sea-level rise affecting our communities here in the younger islands,” said OHA Board Chair Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey.

The hui collaborated on two separate scientific studies on sea-level rise and intertidal fisheries management, working alongside each other during fieldwork and expanding on future cross-collaborations.

Led by Haunani Kāne, an assistant professor at the Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science at Arizona State University, the first study identified shifts in dominant sediment types and its sources from the nearshore reefs at Lalo.

“I couldn’t have hoped for a more successful trip,” said Kāne. “We were able to conduct high-quality research, share space and time with our kūpuna islands, and the trip itself provided numerous opportunities for our haumāna to grow as young leaders.

“Each of the graduate students stepped up big in some way. By the end of our huakaʻi, Kainalu Steward led all land-based GPS surveying at Tern Island – which will be very important as the PMNM Lalo task force begins to envision options for the future of these moku as the climate changes. Aloha Kapono led all of the marine surveys and successfully collected sediment samples and videos with her team that will be used to describe the impacts of Hurricane Walaka on the reef in 3D. And Lauren Kapono stepped up big time and led the intertidal surveys while also navigating challenging conditions at both Kamohoaliʻi and Nīhoa.”

In 2018, Hurricane Walaka devastated this area and resulted in the loss of an entire islet and large expanses of pristine reef. The study helped improve understanding of the potential loss and timescales for recovery of critical habitat following extreme storm events.

The study also focused on learning more about how the predicted increased sea level rise and hurricane activity in Hawaiʻi will impact essential habitats for priority species, such as sea turtles, monk seals, and various seabirds. This project was also supported by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the National Science Foundation and Arizona State University.

“We hope that our trip will help to inspire other Native Hawaiians to push the boundaries of Hawaiian perspectives in their field, even when they feel like their voice is the minority,” Kāne said. “This was the first time that an entire crew of Hawaiian scientists led research in Papahānaumokuākea under a research permit and our research will directly contribute to four Native Hawaiian graduate degrees and an early career professor.”

The second study was conducted by Nā Maka Onaona in partnership with UH Mānoa and UH Sea Grant to build on more than a decade of partnerships with various organizations and communities monitoring the dynamic Hawaiian intertidal fishery in the main Hawaiian Islands and Papahānaumokuākea.

Led by Pelika Andrade and Kanoeʻulalani Morishige, the research focused on developing sustainable harvesting and adaptive management strategies that support ʻāina momona, healthy and productive communities of people and place. One of the ancestral knowledge systems integrated into the project was the use of Huli ʻIa, a traditional observational process that documents seasonal changes and shifts across entire landscapes.

“Paired with Huli ʻIa, we interweave community engagement, ancestral knowledge systems, and institutional research, creating a unique research approach called ʻProductivity and Carrying Capacity’ (PACC) to better understand seasonal changes on patterns of reproduction, recruitment, growth, and productivity of ʻopihi and intertidal ecosystems,” said Morishige, a UH Mānoa Marine Biology Ph.D. candidate.

“Our work across the pae ʻāina, including Papahānaumokuākea, broadens our understanding and collectively informs our research on the breadth and depth of productive systems and ʻāina.”

“It was an honor to participate in this huakaʻi with these amazing kānaka who are looking to push the boundaries of contemporary sciences by ensuring Indigenous perspectives remain at the forefront of their studies,” said OHA’s Papahānaumokuākea Program Specialist Kaʻaleleo Wong. “This trip helped create lasting impressions and lessons learned for all those involved and further reinforces the need to provide opportunities for other Native Hawaiians to experience Papahānaumokuākea in this way.”

Added Kāne, “Sailing to and from Papahānaumokuākea was a lesson in itself and one that we all will forever cherish. The crew of Makani ʻOlu were great teachers, and it was rewarding to work so hard to get to the kūpuna islands and back home again. We were also blessed with amazing community members who kept us well fed and happy with fresh fish!”

OHA’s support of this cultural and scientific voyage aligns with Mai Ka Pō Mai, a groundbreaking guidance document recently approved by the Papahānaumokuākea Management Board. Mai Ka Pō Mai uses traditional concepts and cultural traditions related to the monument to set a foundation for how management should be conducted.

“As a co-trustee of the monument, OHA is excited to promote projects that demonstrate there has never been a separation between our culture and science,” said Lindsey. “These researchers are following in the footsteps of our kūpuna as they use our native language, traditional protocols, and cultural worldview to pursue a better understanding of our environment and develop new methods to help us survive in our island home.”

More information on Mai Ka Pō Mai can be found at