Just months after condemning China for building islands in the disputed South China Sea, the White House announced that Obama was conducting a land-grab of his own. The move was praised by environmentalists as Obama had created the largest federally protected environmental monument on the planet: quadrupling the size of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument just west of the Hawaiian islands. Far from protecting the environment, this monument (and others like it) only serve to protect private interests, expand military capability, and take land control away from indigenous populations.
Other marine monuments in areas such as Guam, Saipan, and many others are actually home to military bases. Expanding the Papahānaumokuākea monument hands over control to the federal government rather than the indigenous Hawaiian population. Commercial fishermen are now not allowed to fish within the new designated “protected” zone. Even residential fishermen may not be able to venture into the area without a specific permit.
By denying or restricting access to the monument under the guise of environmentalism, this creates a perfect buffer zone for the United States to conduct military drills without any interference or security risks. In wartime, this also gives the DoD the ability to conduct business in the protected areas. Such as the case of Guam during the Cold War. Or the Cayos Cochinos off the coast of Honduras; where the local population had their land turned into a “marine monument” and then converted into a military base twenty years later. These “marine monuments” are simply modern day colonialism.
Marine monuments like Papahānaumokuākea also serve to protect private interests rather than the local public populations. Besides the profits made by converting them to military bases, a hefty tourism industry can emerge; allowing the federal government to charge admission to the “protected area” or open the area up to private investments. The federal government can also profit off of any environmental research conducted in these areas. Once again, this leaves the indigenous population out in the cold with no say in the matter.
Also, as Craig Santos Perez wrote in the Hawaii Independent two years ago, this federal protection allows the United States to control the tuna fishing industry: “By establishing marine monuments, and encouraging its allies in the Pacific to do the same, the U.S. could effectively shut out China from Pacific tuna waters. In turn, private U.S. tuna corporations could negotiate contracts with Pacific allied nations to develop Pacific fisheries or to obtain exclusive fishing rights within the marine reserves (as well as access to cheap labor and canneries). This comes at a time when foreign-owned and American-owned canned-tuna companies are battling for control over our kids’ school lunches. Billions of dollars of tuna are on the plate.”
Indeed two years later, the Hawaiian longshore fishermen condemned and lobbied against the new expanded marine monument. Claiming they need the flexibility to fish and do all they can to preserve environmental sustainability. The announcement to expand Papahānaumokuākea came on Friday after months of heated public debate.