New proposed rules to protect the critical habitat for the Hawaiian monk seal will be under discussion tonight on Molokai in the first of a series of public hearings held by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service.
Tonight’s meeting is from 5:30-8 p.m. at the Mitchell Pau’ole Center in Kaunakakai.
The statewide public hearings will weigh the proposal to designate more than 11,000 square miles of coastal and marine critical habitat for endangered Hawaiian monk seals. The proposed rules will protect beaches and coastal waters on all the main Hawaiian Islands and expand protected habitat in the Northwestern Islands.
These protections will not only ensure that monk seals have habitat that allows them to thrive, but will also protect Hawaii’s beaches for surfers, fishers and all those who love the ocean. Critical habitat protections will not limit public access but will ensure that federally permitted activities such as development and pollution permits do not spoil monk seal habitat.
Specific areas proposed for the main Hawaiian Islands include terrestrial and marine habitat from five meters inland from the shoreline extending seaward to the 500-meter depth contour around: Kaula Island, Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Maui Nui (including Kahoolawe, Lanai, Maui, and Molokai), and Hawaii.
The current Hawaiian monk seal population is estimated at 1,161 individuals according to the Pacific Islands Regional Office of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). This is the part of NOAA that manages programs that support both domestic and international conservation and management of living marine resources within the Pacific.
Tonight’s hearing will be an opportunity to learn more about the criteria used by the NMFS to determine critical habitats. Monk seals are one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world, and endangered species with critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as those without it.
Monk seals need beaches and marine waters to support their survival. Only one in five juvenile monk seals survives in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, so new habitat protections are vital in the main Hawaiian Islands, where monk seals are giving birth to healthy pups.
For those unable to attend the public hearings, comments will be accepted until Aug. 31. To submit comments electronically, go to http://www.regulations.gov and follow the instructions. Submit written comments to Regulatory Branch Chief, Protected Resources Division, National Marine Fisheries Service, Pacific Islands Regional Office, 1601 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite 1110, Honolulu, HI, 96814, Attn.: Hawaiian monk seal proposed critical habitat.
Another public hearing will be held tomorrow at the Kihei Community Center, also from 5:30-8 p.m.