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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Ecosystem Approach Likely for Sanctuary

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary has been proposed for expansion in both size and focus to reflect a more integrated management approach. The proposal published Thursday would add 235 square miles to the sanctuary, change the name of the sanctuary, and change its focus and management procedures from a single-species approach to an ecosystem-based approach.

The sanctuary was designated by Congress in 1982, but it is co-managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the state of Hawaii, with the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources taking the lead in the sanctuary's oversight.

"This proposal is the result of a multi-year collaborative effort that involved considerable input from all sectors of the local community," Malia Chow, sanctuary superintendent, was quoted as saying in NOAA's announcement. "We welcome further public review and input into our proposed new management plan as we move forward with the important job of managing this special place which is critical to both the regional economy and communities in Hawai'i."

While the humpbacks will "remain the centerpiece of sanctuary protection," NOAA said, the new approach would focus on biological, physical and human components of the marine ecosystem, and would "also engage in research, resource protection, education, community engagement, and education for other areas and issues of the sanctuary environment," according to the action.

NOAA stressed that this integrated approach is consistent with the Native Hawaiians' management practices, which holistically include land, marine, cultural and biological resources, and also acknowledge humans as part of the ecosystem.

To recognize the proposed change to an ecosystem-based approach, the action proposes to rename the sanctuary to "Hawaiian Islands National Marine Sanctuary-Na Kai 'Ewalu," which means "the eight seas" in Native Hawaiian, a term that incorporates both the ocean channels between the Hawaiian Islands and the Hawaiian Islands themselves.

The addition of 235 square miles in state and federal waters around the islands of Oahu, Kauai and Niihau increases the sanctuary to just over 1600 square miles.

In addition to cultural and historical resources, the area is home to coral reefs, endangered Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles, seagrasses, and 24 other species of whales and dolphins in addition to the humpback whales. Ten public hearings on the proposed rule will be held at various locations in Hawaii during April and May, and comments are due by June 19.

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