Alaĝum Kanuux̂* (the Heart of the Ocean), is a proposed marine sanctuary in the Eastern Bering Sea, approximately 200 miles north of Unalaska, Alaska in the Aleutian island chain; roughly 500 miles southeast of the Siberian Coast, Russia; and about 750 mi west of Anchorage, Alaska. It is just 30 miles from the Eastern Bering Sea shelf, which creates a unique ecosystem around the islands, creating a distinctly productive area with an incredible richness of biodiversity.
The Aleut Community of St. Paul Island (ACSPI) is working toward a designated, co-managed marine area that addresses conservation concerns shared between the communities of St. Paul and St. George while ensuring the sustainability of commercial fisheries and our local economies. ACSPI officially launched the PRIME Initiative on December 20th 2021 with the announcement of a nomination to the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. On June 8th 2022, Alaĝum Kanuux̂ was accepted to the Inventory of Successful Nominations.
The Pribilof Island Marine Island Ecosystem (or PRIME) has been successfully managed by the federally recognized tribe of the ACSPI for generations. However, ongoing commercial fisheries management in the Bering Sea has not included Tribal government or local Indigenous voices in decision-making in a meaningful way, and partially as a result the islands are experiencing an alarming decline of fur seals, sea lions, seabirds, fish, crab, and other invertebrates, with real costs to wildlife, human and ecosystem health, local economies, and culture. For example, the Northern Fur Seals are one of the highest priorities to the Pribilof Islands Aleut communities. Northern Fur Seals have declined to less than one quarter of their estimated peak historic population of 2.1 million animals in the 1950s. The goal of the Pribilof Island National Marine Sanctuary would be to ensure that this area is co-managed, using the wisdom and experience of the tribe to ensure resources are managed in a way that can be sustainable and promote economic development for generations to come. For more information on our conceptual framework for co-management, please read our Nomination Addendum.
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National Marine Sanctuaries protect natural and cultural resources while allowing people to use and enjoy the ocean in a sustainable way. Sanctuaries are nominated by local communities. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Office of National Marine Sanctuaries reviews nominations. If NOAA determines that a nomination meets the criteria for becoming a sanctuary, a separate multi-year, public stakeholder consultation designation process is required by law before a sanctuary can be formally designated. The designation process typically lasts 3-5 years and provides an opportunity for the views of all interested parties to be taken into account. Designated sanctuaries rely on a combination of existing U.S. and State of Alaska regulations. If necessary, additional regulations could be issued following public comment.
The proposed mechanism for establishing this area would utilize the existing National Marine Sanctuary Act, which includes existing processes for fishery management actions through the North Pacific Fishery Management Council as well as the needed flexibility to achieve co-management of the PRIME ecosystem while allowing for a balance of cultural, environmental and economic priorities.
The National Marine Sanctuary System consists of marine protected areas that encompass more than 620,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters from Washington State to the Florida Keys, and from Lake Huron to American Samoa. The system includes 15 national marine sanctuaries and the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. For more information please visit the FAQ National Marine Sanctuaries website
The Aleut Community of St. Paul Island (ACSPI) is the federally recognized Tribal Government for St. Paul Island, Alaska and, as such, gives voice to our 1,800 enrolled tribal citizens. “Aleut Community of St. Paul Island'' is a title by which the U.S. government formally recognizes “the tribe,” the group of people of the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island that have a time honored common bond of living together as a nation – born, living, and self-governing before the United States was conceived. The ACSPI Tribal Government is the governmental venue through which the Unangan (or “the Aleut People'' in our Unangam Tunuu language) of St. Paul Island can fulfill our intrinsic rights and responsibilities and support, recollect, practice, and pass on our culture. Our Tribal Government leads efforts to ensure and strengthen political sovereignty, economic self-sufficiency, continued cultural practices, tribal self-determination and self-governance, and the overall health, welfare, and safety of tribal members. For more information on the ACSPI Read our fact sheet or Aleut.com
Through the PRIME Initiative, ACSPI seeks to designate a co-managed marine area that will adequately address conservation concerns while ensuring the sustainability of our local economies and providing continued fishing opportunities, which are intricately tied to the integrity of our marine environment. The nominated area is called Alaĝum Kanuux̂, or heart of the ocean, and it is a component of the PRIME Initiative.
The federally recognized Tribal Aleut communities of St. Paul and St. George are directly experiencing a rapidly transforming marine ecosystem, including alarming declines of fur seals, sea lions, seabirds, fish, crab, and other invertebrates, with real costs to wildlife, human and ecosystem health, local economies, and culture. Specifically, laaqudan, or northern fur seals are one of the highest priorities to the Pribilof Islands Aleut communities. Laaqudan have declined to less than one quarter of their estimated peak historic population of 2.1 million animals since the 1950s.
The designation of Alaĝum Kanuux̂ is an important step toward ensuring the continued sustainability and thriving culture of our community and the ability to adapt to climate changes. ACSPI is taking this step in the spirit of collegiality, collaboration, and economic resilience, with partners throughout the region.
The Pribilof Islands are centrally situated in the Eastern Bering Sea, 30 miles north-northeast from the continental shelf break, approximately 200 mi (322 km) north of Unalaska, Alaska; roughly 500 mi (805 km) southeast of the Siberian Coast, Russia; and about 750 mi (1207 km) west of Anchorage, Alaska. Their proximity to the shelf creates a unique oceanography around the islands, creating a distinctly productive area called the Pribilof Domain. These natural processes produce high biodiversity and attract densities of wildlife. The Islands are home to more than half of the world’s breeding population of laaqudan, or northern fur seals and large colonies of seabirds. The region nurtures important Bering Sea commercial fisheries including walleye pollock, the largest commercial fishery in the nation, as well as pacific halibut, snow crab, and red king crab.
ACSPI believes that the National Marine Sanctuaries (NMS) Act is the best tool currently available to advance its goals under the PRIME Initiative. The NMS nomination process enables communities to identify and recommend special areas of the ocean or Great Lakes for possible designation as a national marine sanctuary. The process provides opportunities and flexibility for co-management, economic resilience, and comprehensive, inclusive approaches to conservation. For more information on the sanctuary nomination process visit nominate.noaa.gov.
To us, co-management means cooperative and sharing decision-making authority. We seek a framework based on equitable, consensus-driven management decision-making authority in which responsibilities are shared among all Tribal and non-Tribal governments involved. This model is based on existing Tribal co-management structures and can be effectuated using existing authorities. For more information on our conceptual framework for co-management, please read our Nomination Addendum.
This nomination is the first of its kind to seek a co-management framework. It would give the Tribes a seat at the table, as co-equals to the Federal and State government, if both are willing participants, in determining how the environment and resources surrounding our islands are managed. It follows in the footsteps of similar efforts such as Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawai'i and Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary in the central coast of California. This truly is a new model for Tribal co-management, Indigenous-led research, and economic development. By designating a co-management area—an area managed cooperatively by willing federal, state and Tribal governments—we will be able to incorporate Indigenous, Traditional, and local knowledge with Western science to conserve our islands and enable sustainable economic development. The proposed governance structure will ensure effective co-management, enact community place-based policies, and restore Indigenous connections to the PRIME. The ACSPI’s approach with regard to Tribal co-management directly enhances Tribal sovereignty, maintains economic opportunities and growth, and conserves resources that have been stewarded by our Indigenous Peoples since time immemorial.
ACSPI has committed to maintaining Alaska’s world-leading fishery management process. All commercial fishery management will continue through the existing North Pacific Fishery Management Council process. We will work to elevate our Indigenous and Local Knowledge and the best available western science to identify needed federal fishery management actions that will help our fur seals, birds, and communities. For more info about our vision for a collaborative fishery management approach with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, please read our Nomination Addendum.
By elevating our voices and working with Indigenous partners, government, NGOs, industry, and others, we believe that Alaĝum Kanuux̂ will result in what ACSPI refers to as an Economic Resilience Zone that supports Tribal and resource dependent businesses and ensures that Indigenous and local knowledge is used to make decisions about resource use and conservation.
The designation of Alaĝum Kanuux̂ will enhance community resilience by ensuring that the Pribilof Islands are able to readily and quickly adapt to changing environmental and economic conditions such as building stable broadband infrastructure, provide opportunities to train the Pribilof Islands' next generation of scientists and professionals locally, and promoting our eco-tourism industry.
There are numerous biological, ecological, and physical features of the PRIME that should be assessed and incorporated in order to determine the appropriate boundaries of Alaĝum Kanuux̂, including its unique oceanographic domain, the foraging and migratory dynamics of seabirds and of marine mammals, and the population dynamics of other important marine organisms that live here. The size of these areas and distances from the islands is based on Indigenous, Traditional and Local Knowledge, physical oceanography and ecosystem modeling. We intend for these boundaries to exclude buffer zones around harbors and all shoreside and submerged industrial facilities and dredge spoil disposal sites. We will work with co-managing partners and advisors on the designation of Alaĝum Kanuux̂ to evaluate these factors using Indigenous knowledge and empirical science in order to design appropriate boundaries during the designation process.
The following groups have spoken in support of the PRIME initiative:
To learn more about the PRIME Initiative, please refer to the following resources:
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