Monk seal recovery action proposal under discussion tomorrow at Home Pumehana

| August 23, 2011 | 4 Comments

The Hawaiian Monk Seal Ho'ailona, formerly known as KP2, was removed from the Kauanakakai Wharf by NOAA. Now NOAA wants to consider bringing wild female pup monk seals from the Northwest Hawaiian Islands to live on the main Hawaiian Islands for three years to help the population recover.


The Molokai public will have the opportunity to talk story on the latest efforts by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service to manage and research monk seal behavior.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, NOAA is holding an informal question-and-answer town hall meeting at Home Pumehana regarding the draft of a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement intended to improve the population recovery of the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.

There will be two meeting sessions tomorrow in Hale Mahaoulu at Home Pumehana in Kaunakakai, one from 3-5 p.m. and another from 6-9 p.m.

The PEIS meeting for monk seal recovery action comes on the heels of a public hearing on Molokai held Aug. 8 for a different monk seal concern. That hearing accepted testimony on NOAA’s proposal to designate more than 11,000 square miles of coastal and marine critical habitat for endangered Hawaiian monk seals.

The purpose of tomorrow’s meeting is to prepare the public so they can offer informed testimony when a more formal public hearing on this PEIS takes place on Molokai Sept. 13.

The proposed recovery actions are intended to address the serious population declines of monk seals observed by researchers from the Pacific Islands Regional Office of the National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of NOAA. In the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, monk seal populations have been steadily declining by 4 percent per year, from over 1,400 seals in 1998 to less than 1,000 today, according to Jeff Walters, marine mammal branch chief for the NMFS. Monk seal populations on the main Hawaiian islands have remained relatively stable.

“We are proposing several different things with monk seal management and conservation,” said Walters. “There will be no new regulations or restrictions.”

What NOAA has proposed is to improve the health of monk seals by providing vaccinations against new marine mammal diseases such as the West Nile virus. A deworming program is also proposed that will protect young monk seals from the effects of flatworms and groundworms.

But the aspect of the proposal Walters expects will receive the greatest concern from the public involves a translocation program. The idea is to take young female monk seal pups in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and relocate them to the main Hawaiian Islands for three years before returning them to their original home.

“The idea is to help address the bottleneck in the Northwest Hawaiian islands where juveniles are not surviving to reproduction age,” said Walters.

The problems arise from an ocean ecosystem that is out of balance from human misuse, which has led to the weakening of the monk seal population. Juvenile monk seals are often starving to death when competing for food with sharks and ulua (jackfish), said Walters. This program would relocate a small number of juvenile females that would otherwise die, said Walters.

The selected female pups would be relocated to main Hawaiian islands where they would be allowed to thrive. NOAA has developed criteria to determine the locations that would work best for the relocated seals. These include environments that have worked well in the past and where human interaction can be controlled and minimized. Community support for the program is another important criteria, said Walters.

Unlike KP2, or Ho’ailona, who came to live and interact widely with the Molokai community around the Kaunakakai Wharf, the young seals in this program have not been raised or conditioned by humans. Because of this, it is important to reduce the amount of human interaction.

The PEIS being prepared is in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to evaluate reasonable alternatives, potential impacts, and proposed mitigation for this recovery action. A link to the draft PEIS can be found on the project website at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/permits/eis/hawaiianmonkseal.

Comments on the draft PEIS will be accepted until Oct. 17 and can be submitted in writing and mailed to NOAA Fisheries Service, Pacific Islands Regional Office, Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Actions PEIS at 1601 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite 1110, Honolulu, HI 96814 or e-mailed to monkseal@noaa.gov.

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