Monk Seals: Critcal habitat, Critical discussion

In the last few weeks, we’ve received letters of strong support and strong opposition to the proposed rule on critical habitat for the Hawaiian monk seal. We hope this blog will open up some safe space for discussion.

In the last few weeks, we’ve received letters of strong support and strong opposition to the proposed rule on critical habitat for the Hawaiian monk seal. The advocacy we do is grassroots and participatory at its heart, and we are grateful to everyone who took the time to write. Advocacy by its nature means taking up a position on a policy and vision -- positions that can be controversial, and open up community disagreement even within our KAHEA ‘ohana. I am writing this blog to help clarify why we so strongly support critical habitat for monk seals, how it’s different from seal translocation, and why we believe these protections will ensure a better future for beaches and nearshore ocean areas for everyone in Hawai’i.

A comment typical of some we have received is this one:

We are very disappointed that you are sponsoring 1 or 2 bills to bring more monk seals to Hawaii and/or to make Hawaii a critical habitat for monk seals.  We have had many, many negative experiences with the seals taking our catches from our lines, in our bags, our nets and chasing fishermen. It's not that we have no sensitivity to the seal, who has many, many laws and organizations protecting them that they will most likely survive, it is just more important to us to be able to feed our Children and Grandchildren and future generations.

We understand and don’t dispute that monk seals have become competitors to subsistence fishermen and sympathize with the sad situation of having to compete for limited resources, but we are hoping that critical habitat will prevent projects that will hurt the health of our nearshore fisheries. It will restrict the construction of any projects that receive federal money or permitting on shorelines identified as critical habitat. This is where monk seals and local fishers may be in the same boat. Poorly planned shoreline development increases coral-killing run-off, sedimentation, and pollution. Dead coral means dead reefs full of wana instead of fish. The critical habitat rule could force some developers into consultations with NMFS, who, ideally, would identify these adverse impacts on fisheries (monk seal food) and correct the project. In this way, protecting monk seal habitat means protecting fishing resources for other species, like fishers who want to feed their children for generations.

Critical habitat does not import seals. Translocation of  monk seals (from the NW Hawaiian Islands, to the Main HI) is a different proposal from critical habitat. Critical habitat protects the beach from projects that are federally permitted or funded, both for monk seals and fishermen (and other beachgoers). Translocation is capturing monk seal pups from the NW Islands and bringing them to the Main Islands -- to eat -- with the intent of re-capturing them and returning them to the NW Islands after a few years.  The jury is still out at KAHEA whether translocation is a good idea, but we all definitely agree, NMFS must be more forthcoming about the extent to which the Critical habitat rule and the translocation proposal are related.  KAHEA began pushing for critical habitat over three years ago, long before translocation was ever offered up as an actual possibility.

It is true, monk seals are showing up more and more in the Main Hawaiian Islands, possibly the result of the collapse of fisheries like the slipper and spiny lobster in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. These fisheries were finally closed in 2000, but the lobster numbers have not since bounced back, and neither have those of the monk seal. It's a sad cycle--man ate their food, so now they're here eating our food. Decades of poor fisheries management by WESPAC has contributed to the unraveling of our ecology, leading to increased competition for fish. In addition to malnutriton/starvation, other threats to monk seals include entanglements, sea level and temperature rise--all problems created by man. The result is that people who eat from the sea and monk seals who eat from the sea are both suffering.

Without critical habitat, competition between seals and ocean users will likely only increase in the future. Poorly planned developments would continue to be allowed along our shorelines, diminishing the overall quality of our resources and leaving less to share amongst us all.  We support critical habitat because is one solid step towards controlling a threat to the survival of both seals and people who rely on the ocean.

Another typical comment:

You and you organization are costing the taxpayers lots of money and are assisting the federal government in their desire to take away even more from the Hawaiian People.

Critical habitat does not take away land from Hawaiʻi's people and it cannot be used as a basis for limiting public access to beaches or stopping people from shorecasting or anything like that.  Basically, if you don't need a federal permit to do what you are doing now, then critical habitat will not affect what you are doing once it is established.

We support critical habitat for the monk seal because it is a solid and inexpensive step towards helping the monk seal actually survive -- at the same time it protects our shorelines and nearshore waters from inappropriate development and general misuse that are permitted or funded by the federal government. While we agree that monk seals have become nuisances to fisherman, we don’t think they should be forced into extinction. We support critical habitat because we believe extinction is a heavy thing and a very real possibility facing the Hawaiian monk seal.

We encourage your feedback.  And regardless of what side of the issue you are on, please submit a comment. NMFS needs to know about the lack of trust our community has for their actions, and understand the real root of the divide in our community. To submit a comment, go to Insert the reference number 0648-BA81 in the search box. A list of different regulations will come up, look for monk seals. Click on it and look for the orange button at the top right to submit a comment. The deadline for written comments is August 31st.

E aloha `āina.

Document Actions
Leiohimoku says:
Aug 22, 2011 03:52 PM
I just can't understand why just the monk seal is getting all this attention. Our aumakua Mano needs it just as much as does all our coastal and ocean animals we treasure culturally and spiritually. Mano is not all as "evil" as is depicted in hollywood films...and is in need of protection for those that would harvest them just for their fins. Some seem to need more than a smack upside the head to wake up....
Leiohimoku says:
Aug 22, 2011 03:54 PM
*typo correction ... *is in need of protection FROM those that would harvest them...
Jon says:
Sep 07, 2011 01:47 PM
Mahalo No e Shelley!
Add comment

You can add a comment by filling out the form below. Plain text formatting. Web and email addresses are transformed into clickable links. Comments are moderated.


Empower grassroots efforts to protect Hawaiʻi with your donation today.

E-mail Sign-up
Follow Us