Ala ʻAumoana Kai Uli: Traveling to the Deep Sea of Papahānaumokuākea


By Malia Evans, Kanoe Morishige and Hōkū Pihana

Papahānaumokuākea is an ʻĀina Akua – a realm of our gods where our ancestors return after death. It is with that understanding that we collectively recognize the responsibility to enter Papahānaumokuākea with a mindset of humility and the active practice of reciprocity.

With awareness and reverence for this place, staff at Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM), the Papahānaumokuākea Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group (CWG), and the Ocean Exploration Trust (OET) have built a collaborative pilina (relationship) grounded in mutual respect, trust, and reciprocity. This pilina cultivates a space of meaningful, equitable engagement by first respecting Indigenous knowledge as an equally valuable body of knowledge within the ocean exploration community.

In September, an exploration vessel (E/V) Nautilus ocean science expedition will travel towards Hōlanikū (Kure Atoll) in PMNM with Kānaka ʻŌiwi, Chamorro, and other Indigenous people on-board to strengthen our pilina and increase knowledge of kai hohonu (deep sea knowledge). CWG members collectively offered the name, Ala ʻAumoana Kai Uli (path of the deep-sea traveler). Ala ʻAumoana Kai Uli reflects our collective experience as people who love and protect the ocean, reminding us of our continued shared responsibility to care for these paths and our ever-developing relationships.

The process of engagement within the partnership is the foundation to increase opportunities for ʻŌiwi and Pacific Islanders to sail Moananuiākea, as Indigenous scientists, voyagers, scholars, engineers, educators, fishers and most importantly, as community members, to learn from diverse schools of knowledge to better understand our relationships to the ocean to which ʻŌiwi are genealogically tied.

Since November 2021, a total of 10 ʻŌiwi have represented as science, engineering, seafloor mapping interns, science communication fellows, resource monitors and cultural liaisons to learn from the kai lipo (deep sea). ʻŌiwi learn from this place of ancestral abundance where over 90% of the area includes depths greater than 3,000 feet. From the darkness of the papakū (seafloor) habitats, the marine life and deep ocean processes are recorded in ʻŌiwi oral traditions and repositories like the Kumulipo. This yearʻs expedition will continue ROV (remotely operated vehicle) dives to the seafloor to explore the ecosystem.

As Kānaka, practitioners, kumu, haumāna, and community members, ʻŌiwi participation in various capacities in research partnerships is crucial to growing the next generation of ʻŌiwi in these spaces. The partnership has led to the creation of Hawaiian names for each expedition, promotional videos in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi, live ship-to-shore interactions with kula kaiapuni (Hawaiian immersion schools), and culturally-grounded ocean science curriculum in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi. As our youth see people from their communities as scientists and cultural practitioners on these expeditions, they begin to believe that they, too, can be scientists grounded in their identity.

If you are interested in learning more about the expedition, please visit the Nautilus website to sign up for a live ship-to-shore interactive sessions. Sessions are also available in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi.

Malia K. Evans is the Oʻahu outreach and education coordinator, Kanoe Morishige is the Native Hawaiian program specialist, and Hōkū Pihana is the Native Hawaiian specialist at Mokupāpapa Discovery Center in Hilo on behalf of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and UNESCO Mixed Natural and Cultural World Heritage Site.