NOAA reviewing responses to humpback sanctuary expansion

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LIHUE, Kauai (AP) — Federal officials are sifting through more than 3,000 written testimonies about a proposal to expand the boundaries of a sanctuary for humpback whales in Hawaii waters.


LIHUE, Kauai (AP) — Federal officials are sifting through more than 3,000 written testimonies about a proposal to expand the boundaries of a sanctuary for humpback whales in Hawaii waters.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently closed its public comment period and will spend the coming months sorting and replying to the feedback, reports The Garden Island (

NOAA is proposing a new management plan that would add about 235 miles of new state and federal waters around Kauai, Niihau and Oahu to the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

The sanctuary is co-managed by NOAA and the state of Hawaii with the goal of protecting humpback whales and their habitat while educating the public on the relationship between the whales and Hawaii’s marine environment.

The changes would bring the sanctuary area to 1,601 square miles and extend its focus from just whales to other marine species.

After NOAA staff members are done reviewing the testimonies, sanctuary program analyst Anne Walton said they will begin to draft a final management plan — a process that could take about a year. The plan must be approved by Congress and signed by the governor before it can be implemented.

The proposal calls for a 16 percent expansion in sanctuary waters around Kauai, including add-ons in Haena, Hanalei and Kilauea.

The whale sanctuary’s boundaries would be extended to include the entire Haena Community-Based Subsistence Fishing Area and parts of the Hanalei River.

The changes would also create a designated area on the Kilauea coast to pilot traditional Hawaiian marine management approaches alongside modern, science-informed techniques to restore the degraded coral reef.

NOAA officials said the proposed changes are the result of requests from community members.

But some local fishermen have expressed concern, especially about the three nautical mile expansion around Niihau. At a public hearing in May, dozens of people said they are afraid that including the waters around Niihau in the plan might eventually lead to fishing restrictions.

The Robinson family asked the state to establish a “no-fishing zone” around Niihau in 2013 that would apply to everyone but the island’s small resident population. They also asked that the waters be included in the sanctuary expansion.

NOAA’s proposals, however, don’t include fishing restrictions.

In fact, Sanctuary Superintendent Malia Chow says preserving the waters for fishing, diving and surfing is part of the plan’s intent.

Concern about the Niihau expansion dominated the public hearings on Kauai. Chow, who led the hearings, said she received at least a dozen emails from sanctuary supporters who said they were too intimidated to speak up during the contentious meetings.


Chow said she herself did not feel safe at times because some members of the public were so combative.

“I feel like we failed in trying to have a fair public process,” she said at the time. “Instead there was a lot of intimidation.”

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