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Editorial | Island Voices

Marine sanctuary plan coming together

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For more than 20 years, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary has protected humpback whales and their habitat in waters around the main Hawaiian islands of Kauai, Oahu, Lanai, Molokai, Maui and Hawaii.

The sanctuary’s success is a result of the manage-ment partnership between NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the state of Hawaii through the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR).

Over the last 20 years, the sanctuary partnership has proven a success, helping to rebuild the humpback whale populations that arrive in our waters every winter.

We have freed more than 20 of these amazing creatures from life-threatening entanglements and have recovered nearly 10,000 feet of large-gauge line from entangled whales.

Since 2008, both the state and the public have made numerous requests to expand the sanctuary’s role by managing additional marine resources, thus bringing additional advantages that will benefit the health of our waters.

The draft plan that was released to the public for comment in March of this year was the result of many years of public dialogue and community input.

The proposal outlined a change of focus for the sanctuary to include the protection of multiple species beyond humpback whales, and offered actions to help solve problems associated with the marine environment.

We received thousands of public comments during the comment period, which closed June 19. We have seen the interest and passion in the community, and have heard very clearly the diverse views of the public. Some comments expressed support for the proposal, and others were strong voices of concern.

Now we enter the next phase of the process where, working with our state partners, we will consider all views expressed and examine ways to refine the proposal based on what we heard.

Going forward, working with state agencies like the DLNR and the governor’s office, we will identify the role the sanctuary should play to support Hawaii’s management of these critical natural resources. Specifically, we will be looking at whether the additional areas proposed by the sanctuary around Oahu, Kauai and Niihau are appropriate or necessary to meet the objectives of the sanctuary and the state.

In addition, we will work with the state to determine what kind of modifications should be considered regarding the regulations proposed in the March 2015 draft document. This includes controversial discharge and seabed-alteration regulations intended to help restore the health of Maunalua Bay, which is already within sanctuary co-managed waters.

The state and NOAA will be working to finalize the regulations and plan and release them sometime next year.

Once the final rule is released, the governor will have an additional opportunity to weigh in on any changes in management to state waters.

NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is committed to helping build a stronger, more resilient future for Hawaii’s communities, ecosystems and economy. A healthy ocean is the basis for thriving recreation, tourism and commercial activities.

We will continue to work with partners and stakeholders to promote responsible, sustainable ocean uses that ensure the health of our most valued ocean places.

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