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The Hawaii Business 20 for the Next 20

(page 21 of 21)

    Photo: Courtesy of Aulani Wilhelm

Aulani Wilhelm, age 41

Superintendent, Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument

The proposal for America’s largest marine sanctuary took shape in a makeshift office, with a pair of tables from City Mill, a borrowed fax machine and a hand-me-down computer.

From those humble beginnings in Aulani Wilhelm’s living room, Papahanaumokuakea in Hawaii’s Northwestern Islands has become a global model for protecting and preserving marine resources.

“A lot of people didn’t believe we would be around for very long,” Wilhelm says. “They didn’t think we would get past Bush administration review, there were no other marine reserves in the country, and so forth.”

The project began as an attempt to create a coral reserve during the Clinton administration, then Wilhelm and her associates pushed hard in the Bush administration for a marine sanctuary. In 2006, Wilhelm was working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Hawaii and went to Washington for the planned announcement of a draft proposal for a national marine sanctuary in the Northwestern Islands. But something dramatic happened.

“Literally at the 11th hour, (President Bush) decided to sign another law to enable immediate action for a marine protected area under the Antiquities Act,” Wilhelm says, a law customarily used to protect land battlefields and historic homes.

“We are the first marine national monument through the Antiquities Act, the first to be used for marine protection,” she said. This has resulted, she admits, in some “quizzical looks” from people who don’t understand how a cultural seascape can end up under World Heritage protection.

The 140,000-square-nautical-mile monument is home to many endangered or threatened species and is used as a model for other protected areas worldwide. “There needs to be places on the globe that are protected for their intrinsic value,” Wilhelm says.

Maui-born, Wilhelm is a 1987 graduate of Kamehameha Schools who studied at the University of California at Los Angeles.

“I just felt that, as a local girl, I had a responsibility to take care of this place.”


1. Randy Baldemor
2. James Bennett
3. Kalei Cadinha-Puaa
4. Kainoa Daines
5. Matthew Delaney
6. Mark Duda
7. Charles Hew-Len
8. Michael Kaleikini
9. Daniel Leuck
10. Jennifer Li Dotson
11. Bryan Luke
12. Wesley Machida
13. Makani Maeva
14. Cameron Nekota
15. Robert Piper
16. Carol Reimann
17. Claire Sullivan
18. Michael Tresler
19. Raymond Vara, Jr.
20. Aulani Wilhelm


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