Territorial entanglements in large scale ocean governance: Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

Authors: Leslie Acton*, Colorado State University, Rebecca L Gruby, Colorado State University
Topics: Pacific Islands, Coastal and Marine, Political Geography
Keywords: oceans, governance, territoriality
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Madison B, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Scholars have theorized that polycentricity may produce benefits, such as institutional (ecological and social) fit and adaptive capacity, that promote effective, sustainable governance of complex social-ecological systems. Yet, little empirical research exists exploring whether and how these benefits emerge and what additional, perhaps unanticipated, outcomes polycentric governance systems produce. This paper presents an empirical examination of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, one of the longest-standing and biggest large marine protected areas in the world. Monument governance is structured as a polycentric governance system, including semi-autonomous decision-making groups and individuals that interact across jurisdiction, geography, and decision-making level. Through analysis of data collected during two field seasons, including semi-structured interviews, policy documents, and participant observation of key policy meetings and educational events, it explores how the Monument’s evolving governance structure has both promoted and limited successful social fit over time, as percieved by governance actors. Further, this complex polycentric governance system presented an unexpected opportunity for native Hawaiians to gain power over the governance of two thirds of the state’s territorial area. In 2016, ten years after the Monument’s creation, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs formally became a Monument co-trustee, giving it unprecedented decision-making power equal to that of two federal agencies and the state of Hawaiʻi. We argue that the Monument’s polycentric governance structure fostered the development of trust and personal relationships that contributed to the support of relevant government agencies and partners in formally elevating the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to co-trustee when the opportunity arose.

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