All Of Us Have Role In Caring For Oceans

The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, July 4, 2021 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section.

Lela DeVine.JPG

By: Lela DeVine, Waiakea High School, ℅ 2021

“Life below water.” People may see this phrase and think of UN SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) 14: to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources. However, as a SCUBA diver, scientist, advocate, explorer, and most importantly, a concerned community member, I see them as people problems – scientifically rooted, yet humanly connected. Ocean initiatives aligned with SDGs in Hawai‘i are well under way, with many striving to resolve marine-based management issues. Many believe that this management should be left to the “experts”, however, I urge you to consider your individual, unique human connection to the ocean. Even the most well-intentioned environmental framework can be rendered impractical if it lacks the crucial community stories and histories that connect people to ocean conservation. Without human connection, policy becomes powerless as people cannot curb the irresponsible consumerism and tourism that detracts from keeping our ocean in balance, our reefs safe, and our beautiful home from reaching its full potential.

Bringing together science,
culture, and personal
experiences can bolster
effective ocean conservation.
— Lela DeVine

My human connection to the ocean is rooted in an intricate and scientific understanding of seemingly simple coral. A slow descent on a summer dive brings about a view teeming with life, as vast coral ridges are speckled with an abundance of lau‘ipala, honu, and kihikihi making themselves right at home. I study the coral polyp in front of me. Though this may seem like just coral to some, I see potential for sustainable medical innovation and advancement.

Interdisciplinary human connection to the ocean continues far beyond my scientific inquiry, with connection to Hawaiian culture bearing extreme weight and significance. This polyp not only holds potential for scientific breakthrough, it’s an akua, believed to provide birth and death to both the people and the islands and resulting in even deeper rooted personal ties to our environment. These well-rounded perspectives and human connections – whether it be through exploration, research, or culture, need to be considered for effective understanding of ocean conservation and management.

Bringing together science, culture, and personal experiences can bolster effective ocean conservation. When environmental frameworks lack these diverse perspectives, they result in ineffective yields. This is best shown through a group of scientists who recently composed An Open Letter to Waldron, et. al, which critiques another well-intended plan to protect 30% of the planet for nature through both Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and various land regions. The critique addresses a flaw in the original proposal – that tourism and consumerism-based industries do not generate revenues for rural farmers, fishing people, or other members of these communities. This decreases accessibility to local resources for community members. On a local level, similarly incomplete planning is seen through the implementation of online reservation websites at different county parks across Hawai‘i, the most notable being Hanauma Bay. This oversight limits access for locals who have been one with the ocean their entire lives.

Consumerism and tourism in Hawai‘i hold powerful economic and environmental management-based weight, and this approach (when not managed properly) overpowers the stories and experiences that each of us have gained living in Hawai‘i. If policy and framework continue to overlook crucial perspectives, we could lose reef populations, increased catches for local fishers and accessibility to locals, the ability to educate outside visitors, and the potential to drive forward groundbreaking marine research.

In unison, however, the intersections between science, culture, storytelling, consumerism, and proper ocean management form a system to create MPAs that are properly funded and give back to our communities, granting us access to the environment we’ve grown to know and love. And with that, I leave you with one simple question: What’s your connection to the ocean?

Asynchronous tools also offer a path to bettering students’ overall well-being. During virtual learning, teachers began to assign asynchronous work because of conflicting schedules, abrupt meetings, or to simply give students a break from sitting in a chair for a couple of hours. This reprieve from attending scheduled lectures can give students the opportunity to better balance extracurricular activities and other assignments from different classes.

While everyone may feel like distance-learning problems will be easily solved with a return to in-person learning, the academic benefits that online learning provides for some students shouldn’t be overlooked simply because of the social gains that in-person learning presents. As Hawaii rushes to return to 100% in-person learning in the fall, we should be careful not to abandon the positive changes that came through online teaching.

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