Equator Prize Winners Attend NYC Summit

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Left to right: Ulu Ching (CI Hawaii), Kevin Chang (KUA), Kamalu and Mac Poepoe (Hui Mālama o Mo’omomi), Keli’i Alapai, Emily Cadiz, Presley Wann (Hui Makaāinana o Makana) and Manuel Mejia (The Nature Conservancy). Photo credit: Kevin Chang, KUA Hawaii.

As Moʻomomi awaits Governor Ige’s release of its Community-Based Subsistence Fishing Areas (CBSFA) proposal for public hearings and input, an initiative years in the making, representatives of that effort are in New York City to accept global recognition for their work.

The two Hawaiian community groups who shared the $10,000 Equator Prize awarded earlier this year by the UN Development Program and its partners will be well-represented at the awards ceremony on Sept. 24, 2019.

The delegation is comprised of Kelson “Mac” Poepoe, founder of Hui Mālama o Moʻomomi on Molokaʻi, and his wife Kamalu; Presley Wann (president), Keliʻi Alapai (vice president) and Emily Cadiz (program director) from Hāʻena of the Hui Makaʻāinana o Makana on Kaua’i; Ulu Ching of CI Hawaiʻi which nominated Moʻomomi, and Kevin Chang, co-director of Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA), the backbone organization that supports community-based environmental stewardship networks.

Moʻomomi and Hāʻena were founding members of the E Alu Pū (move forward together) network and KUA. Breanna Rose of Hawai‘i Green Growth (HGG), which nominated Hāʻena, will also be in the larger delegation of HGG and county reps who are expected to attend.

This recognition on a global stage puts a spotlight on Governor Ige’s stated goal of ensuring that 30% of nearshore marine areas will be effectively managed by 2030, something that will not happen without the active support of rural communities and native Hawaiian fishers like those who are showing the way at Mo’omomi.


The award comes during a year when the role of indigenous people and local communities in caring for their places and adapting to climate change is becoming a global imperative. The US under President Obama recognized the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

Representatives of the 22 indigenous organizations who won the Equator Prize for developing nature-based solutions to tackle climate change, poverty and environmental threats will also attend a week-long summit during the 74th United Nations General Assembly.

Opportunity to share indigenous knowledge

Hannah Kīhalani Springer, a member of the E Alu Pū Network Council and board member of Kuaʻāina Ulu ʻAuamo (KUA), is optimistic about the value of building bridges to others doing life-saving work.

“I know everyone will return with renewed energy and purpose,” she said. “With each day, the urgency of the work grows and our solidarity with indigenous communities around the world is critical to progress. It is very encouraging to those who have worked diligently for years on land and marine conservation to see their efforts lifted up with the Equator Prize. We are grateful to have the opportunity to learn from the others who were selected from hundreds across 127 countries.”


The winners were selected by a Technical Advisory Committee of renowned experts who chose the winning initiatives based on assessments of their impact as it related to two or more UN Sustainable Development Goals.

They also examined the level and quality of innovations, the scalability and/or replicability of the initiatives and the ways in which inequalities in income could be reduced through resilience, adaptability and self-sufficiency. The committee looked at how the nominees encouraged social inclusion and diversity and advanced the empowerment of women and girls.

Passing on the wisdom and practices of the kupuna, Kelson “Mac” Poepoe, founder of Hui Mālama o Moʻomomi on Molokaʻi instructs a group of children. Photo credit: Kehau Springer

Hui Mālama o Moʻomomi—Molokaʻi

The Equator Prize and the international recognition comes as Hui Mālama o Moʻomomi awaits Governor Ige’s release of their community-based subsistence fishing area (CBSFA) proposal and rule package for public hearings and input.

The first permanent CBSFA was implemented in Hāʻena, Kauaʻi in 2015. CBSFAs enable communities to co-manage natural resources with the government with the goal of reaffirming and protecting fishing practices traditionally exercised for purposes of native Hawaiian subsistence, culture, and religion. A number of other CBSFAs are being considered in places such as Kīpahulu (Maui), Miloliʻi and others.


Led by Kelson “Mac” Poepoe, Hui Mālama o Moʻomomi has worked for over two decades to mālama the nearshore fisheries of Moʻomomi, Molokaʻi to ensure that present and future generations of Hoʻolehua homesteaders and the families will be able to live off these resources. Their efforts are designed to maintain subsistence as a viable option in Molokaʻi’s fluctuating economy and to encourage young Hawaiians to learn traditional fishing practices.

In 2003, Mac Poepoe invited traditional nearshore gatherers to come together in an effort that led to the birth of the E Alu Pū network. This statewide rural Native Hawaiian stewardship network enables the sharing of knowledge in a way that is mutually empowering. In its methods and impact, it is quintessentially what the Equator Prize is all about, catalyzing broader statewide community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) initiatives.

Hui Makaʻāinana o Makana

Hui Makaʻāinana o Makana is a nonprofit organization formed by descendants of the traditional families of Hāʻena. One of the most heavily impacted tourist spots on the island averaging 2,300 visitors per day—over 800,000 a year—this initiative has led to measures to moderate the impact of tourism.

Led by Presley Wann and Keliʻi Alapai, the Hui worked on an initiative to partner with the state to implement the first community-based subsistence fishing area (CBSFA) rules that allow for communities and the state to co-manage nearshore ocean areas together. The marine resources of Hāʻena feed local families, with the catch shared among community members.

The Hui looks to the history, identity, meaning, ecology, values and people of a place to find solutions to community-identified challenges. It worked with local divers, fishers, kayak and scuba businesses, surfers and other ocean users and businesses to develop solutions to user conflicts. Collaborations with scientists and researchers resulted in the documentation of the traditional knowledge of Hāʻena fishers and elders. A puʻuhonua (sanctuary) area was created, based on the traditional ecological knowledge, and sustainable fishing traditions of the community’s subsistence fishers. The Hui partnered with the county and State Parks to tend to the upkeep of family burials, sacred sites and historic loʻi.

Several major European governments, thought-leaders like Jane Goodall and Jeffery Sachs, and indigenous rights leaders like Vicki Tauli-Corpuz, as well as major conservation organizations, philanthropists and celebrities support the Equator Prize. Recognition of Hawaii’s contributions at the international gathering in New York City this week underscores the momentum for a global movement of local successes that are collectively helping to advance the Sustainable Development Goals.

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