Hawaii residents, lawmakers and conservationists gathered Thursday at the State Legislature to rally in support of the expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

They’re urging the White House Council on Environmental Quality to expand the protection of the monument from 50 nautical miles to 200 nautical miles. There would be an exception for the waters around Kauai and Niihau, as well as two fishing buoys for Kauai fishermen.

Supporters like marine biologist Douglas McCauley say the monument is home to many endemic species, and without this added protection, those species risk extinction. “Species like sea birds and sharks have declined by up to 70 percent over the last few decades,” he said.

“This is a necessary step,” said energy committee chairman Rep. Chris Lee, “but a first step that must be taken to make sure we have this incredible valuable resource protected in perpetuity.”

This week, the Obama administration sent a delegation to meet with stakeholders — including Native Hawaiians, scientists, local fishermen and the conservation community — who presented cultural and scientific evidence to support expanding the monument to fully protect the cultural, historical, and biological significance of the northwest islands.

“As Native Hawaiians, our core identity and survival is tied to the ocean. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is where we believe life originated,” said Kekuewa Kikiloi, Chair, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group. “All resources in nature – from corals to sharks – have cultural significance for Native Hawaiians and are an embodiment of our ancestors. By expanding Papahanaumokukea, we can help protect our cultural ocean scapes and show future generations that preservation of the environment is preservation of our cultural traditions.”

“We have seen the decline in tuna populations that long-line fishing in Hawaii has caused, subjecting Hawaiians and Hawaii residents to import ahi poke from other countries,” said fisherman Jay Carpio. “Fishermen like the late Uncle Buzzy Agard led the effort to establish Papahanaumokuakea, and local fishermen are again leading the call to President Obama to expand the monument.”

There are significant resources of scientific value that would benefit from expanded protections. Highly migratory or far-ranging species such as sea turtles, whales, dolphins, seabirds, sharks, and tuna forage outside of the area of the existing monument and are threatened by longline fishing vessels when they range outside the area of protection.

Additionally, in the 10 years since the original monument designation, scientific expeditions outside of the current monument boundaries and within the proposed expansion area have discovered high density communities in which most of the animals seen are completely unknown to science, making a compelling case for expansion. This includes black corals which are estimated at 4,500 years old, and described as the old growth redwood forests of the ocean.