Native Hawaiian Cultural Practices are Vital to Protecting the Native Species and Ecosystems of Hawai‘i Nei

This blog is co-authored by Moana Bjur, Executive Director for the National Wildlife Federation’s Hawai’i affiliate, Conservation Council for Hawai‘i, as well as Mike Nakachi and Kaikea Nakachi from the Kaupulehu Marine Life Advisory Committee in celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day.

In Hawai‘i, sharks hold a special place in cultural practices and are also vitally important to Hawaii’s unique marine ecosystem. Sharks are one of the most prevalent organisms identified as ‘aumakua, or ancestral family deities in Hawai‘i, and to honor this an ancient kapu or taboo was placed to protect most sharks from being fished or killed. Their cultural importance is emphasized further by the existence of kahu manō, or shark keepers, who held the responsibility of caring for patron sharks and in turn brought protection and bountiful resources. Today, many cultural practices have been oppressed and lost and there are no state-wide laws protecting sharks anymore.

One Hawaiian Family has sought to revitalize the practice of caring for sharks and restore the protection they once enjoyed. The Nakachi family continues the traditions of their ancestors by studying and caring for sharks in West Hawaii. They are also a part of the Kaupulehu community that has spent decades fighting to conserve their local resources. The Kaupulehu Marine Life Advisory Committee (KMLAC) was formed in 1995 and in 2016 successfully passed legislation to create a 10-year no-take-zone along a 3-mile stretch of coast. Sharks are one of several elements of KMLAC’s conservation action plan that are being studied. The KMLAC seeks to form adaptive management strategies to cooperatively manage marine life with state agencies. This includes supporting additional legislation to further protect sharks, particularly since they are such wide-ranging beings. The Conservation Council for Hawai‘i (CCH) has supported this effort by standing with Native Hawaiians in litigation efforts such as a lawsuit filed this year by CCH, the Nakachi Family, and Earth Justice that led to further protections being required for the Oceanic Whitetip shark.

Shark in water.
Photo by Kaikea Nakachi of a shark his family has known for many years that they continue to take care of and fight for her protection.

CCH proudly supports the work that indigenous cultures do here in Hawai‘i and around the world. We are grateful for the work of the Nakachi Family and will continue to support their efforts to cooperatively manage marine life with state agencies by providing testimony in support of state legislation attempting to protect sharks from purposefully being harassed or killed, sharing their stories with, and mobilizing the support of our members and partners.

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