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Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images

Listen: an interview with Uncle Sol, winner of the 2024 Ocean Awards' Lifetime Achievement

15 May 2024 • Written by Lucy Dunn

In a special podcast to mark the Ocean Awards, Blue Marine Foundation co-founder and Ocean Awards' chair, Charles Clover sat down with the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award, Solomon Pili Kaho’ohalahala to discuss his remarkable career in conservation, his people’s strong ties with the ocean and his ambitions to create one of the planet’s largest marine protected areas.

Seventh-generation native Hawaiian descendant, Solomon Pili Kaho’ohalahala, 73, has dedicated his life to conservation, and the respect for the ocean is inherent to his people’s culture and beliefs. “The ocean is really our country. It’s where we emerge from. We have a genealogy that begins from the deep depths of the ocean,” he says. “And it is in this organic soup, the first living creature emerges and that is the coral polyp. And it is from that point that all other life begins.”

Kaho’ohalahala is currently the Native Hawaiian Elder representative on the advisory council of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, a huge area of more than 1.5 million square kilometres in the Pacific Ocean, encompassing 10 islands and atolls in the north-western Hawaiian islands.

When Uncle Sol, as Kaho’ohalahala is widely known, campaigned in 2016 to extend the area further so that it’s now the biggest conservation area in the US, he received pushback from scientists who said there was nothing there. “But when they dove down there, they found new mountain ranges that had never been discovered before. And even more importantly, when they started to dive down with ROVs among these mountain ridges, at the very bottom they found creatures, fish, corals and seaweed that were 100 per cent endemic to the place. They also found the largest living coral known to date, which was around 4,000-5,000 years old, the oldest living known coral on Earth, which just reaffirmed it for us in the cultural context.”

Uncle Sol began his work in 1978 when he successfully campaigned for his home island, Lāna’i, to become a Marine Life Conservation District, which would ban commercial fishing. Only fishers using Hawaiian canoes and traditional methods are now allowed. “It wasn’t an easy task,” Kaho’ohalahala recalls.

Kaho’ohalahala is now leading a proposal to expand the conservation area into Polynesia and Micronesia.” We are the largest ocean on Earth. What would be the benefits of setting aside the largest ocean as a marine protected area?” he muses. “If we have demonstrated proof from my own backyard that it works, you know, what would be the benefits of this in terms of global mitigation, of climate change, carbon sequestration, oxygen production, the warming and the cooling of the oceans… acidification. These are all the things that I think the large ocean can be a major part of the relief or the paradigm shift that the Earth needs to have. And for me, it takes me back to my creation that says, ‘take care of these places.’”

Read More/Introducing the 2024 Ocean Awards winners

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