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Group wants more federal money for Hawaiian monk seals

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    In this Feb. 10, 2009, file photo, a Hawaiian monk seal basks in the late afternoon sun on the beach in Hau'ula, Hawaii, on the north shore of Oahu.

An environmental group on Thursday recommended that the federal government spend more to help prevent critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals from becoming extinct.

The Marine Conservation Institute said in a report that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration should also hire a community liaison. This person would build trust with fishermen, some of whom believe theseals are competing with them for fish.

The liaison would also work with community members frustrated over not being consulted about decisions involving the management of natural resources.

The world’s population of Hawaiian monk seals is less than 1,100 and their numbers are declining 4 percent per year.

Only 1 in 5 seals born in the remote Northwestern Hawaiian Islands — where about 900 of the animals live — survives until its first birthday.

In contrast, the population of seals born in the heavily human-populated Main Hawaiian Islands has been growing about 5 percent annually. But these seals have also encountered hostility from people who mistakenly believe they are an introduced species not native to Hawaii or that they are taking away food from fishermen. Severalseals have been deliberately killed on Kauai and Molokai in recent years.

There will be only 450 to 550 monk seals remaining overall in 20 years if the current trend continues, the group estimates.

“If NOAA wants to reverse the long decline of this iconic species, it is going to have to be more aggressive,” Lance Morgan, the president of the Seattle-based environmental advocacy group, said in a statement.

NOAA currently spends about $4 million on monk seals each year. The group recommends that NOAA ask Congress for $5 million and gradually request more until it gets $7 million in fiscal year 2017.

The institute said a lack of money has caused NOAA to shorten the time staffers spend in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands protecting seals from hazards like sharks and male seals attacking young female seals.

Bill Chandler, the group’s conservation adviser, said the report’s release is timed for budget season in Washington.

“We wanted to weigh in as far as what appropriations the program is going to need from Congress,” Chandler said.

Rachel Sprague, NOAA’s Hawaiian monk seal recovery coordinator, said the recommendations are things that most people who work on monk seal recovery agree need to be focused on.

She said the agency has had community and cultural liaisons in the past but doesn’t now because it lacks the resources.

The state of Hawaii, however, she said, is hiring for three outreach positions on Kauai, Maui and the Big Island. These positions are funded by NOAA grants to help states support the recovery of endangered species, she said.

Trisha Kehaulani Watson, a consultant who works with the Marine Conservation Institute, said communities on Kauai have been frustrated at not being included in decisions about conservation even though the island has been on the front lines of regulations protecting threatened seabirds, monk seals and other species.

“In order to meet conservation goals, you have to reach out to communities that are on the ground most directly impacted by conservation regulations and measures,” she said.

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