An intimate look at a national monument under threat

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument is one of the 27 national monuments currently under review by the Trump administration. Situated within the middle of the Pacific Ocean and encompassing parts of the Hawaiian Islands chain, it covers a total 583,000 square miles of land and sea.

It also houses the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and the Battle of Midway National Memorial. The latter is set to celebrate its 75th anniversary on June 5, and to commemorate it, filmmaker Ian Shive has produced a poignant look at the intersection of history and nature with his new film “Midway: Edge of Tomorrow”.

Shive gave GrindTV an exclusive interview to discuss what he has learned about Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument as a whole and how important it is for our history and to our planet.

How did this project come about?

I had never visited the marine monument but I have been working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which manages the area, and their partners for the last few years at various places around the country. The project really was a culmination of many years of documenting important federal land.

How would you describe the intersection of nature and history in the area?

History and nature are deeply intertwined. There is a major cultural significance to all of the monument for Hawaiians. What ancient Hawaiian culture didn’t leave behind, World War II did. June 3rd of this year will mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway, which is considered one of the most pivotal naval battles in history and the turning point of the war in the Pacific.

Bullet casings found within the national monument. Photo: Courtesy of Ian Shive

There are still many relics of the Battle on Midway. On the beaches there are pill boxes where men sought cover and fought the enemy, buildings still stand, slowly becoming reclaimed by the salty sea air and old guns still sit on the beach. It is not uncommon to go snorkeling after a storm and find an old bullet casing resting gently on the ocean floor as if it had just fallen out of a Japanese Zero as it flew overhead attacking the island.

What are some of the species you got to witness in their natural habits within the refuge?

We saw numerous species but my favorite by far is the Laysan Albatross. Giant birds with six foot wing spans that are so curious that while I’d sit and film them they’d come up to me and pull on a zipper, try to run off with a lens cap or just inquisitively look at me.

The Laysan Albatross. Photo: Courtesy of Ian Shive

They are also so deeply loving and after weeks of watching them interact, you can see the affection they have for each other. Scientifically speaking, they are the most devoted animals in the world, with a perfect 100-percent monogamy rate, separated only by death. They are fascinating, brilliant creatures and I never got tired of spending time with them.

What makes the Papahānaumokuākea area so special?

The lack of many, many things. The lack of cell phones ringing, text messages dinging, airplanes flying overhead, radios blaring, hotels and high rises lining the shore. It is 1,200 miles of some of the most pristine islands, atolls and oceans in all of the Pacific and every day they are filled with surprises and beauty that can be found nowhere else. These everyday gifts can only happen if these places are protected and remain so.

Beautiful coral reef. Photo: Courtesy of Ian Shive

What are some things you learned about the area throughout your filming?

From understanding the history of the island in a new way to seeing some of the world’s most endangered and rare creatures live out their daily lives, I feel like I came away with an understanding of why these places need protection. They need to be able to play out their life story as unimpeded as possible.

Aerial view of Eastern Island (top) and Spit Island ( bottom) at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and Battle of Midway National Memorial. Photo: Courtesy of Ian Shive

What would be the repercussions of revoking Papahānaumokuākea as a national monument?

It would be a tragedy. These aren’t massive islands that can sustain tourism or industry on the scale that we humans would bring to them. I think of the night I accidentally left a single small lamp on in my room. There are strict rules to keep lights off at night or pull the curtains as tight as possible because a bird that lives on the island, the bonin petrel, is attracted to it. They are so attracted to it they will fly, top speed, toward the light and into a window, possibly killing them. Within a few moments I heard a “thunk” on my window. Thankfully the little guy was just startled for a moment but I turned off my light. Now what happens when we have hotel after hotel lining the shore?

Dolphins in their element. Photo: Courtesy of Ian Shive

This is just one, tiny example of how these places just aren’t meant for us on a large scale. They aren’t just isolated islands, but rather pieces of a larger ecosystem, one that we are connected to whether we are in Hawaii, Los Angeles or London. All of these islands, birds, dolphins and fish are part of a greater chain of command which, if it falls apart, will most likely take us with it.

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