Managing the reefs

Sixty thousand dollars in federal funds will be made available for community-based coral reef management projects, as part of a $225,000 Coral Reef Initiative grant that Hawaii received from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The Hawaii Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Program and the Department of Land & Natural Resources (DLNR) will use the grant to support community-based efforts as well as enhance government programs to protect, restore, and sustainably use valuable coral reefs.

The CZM office is primarily involved on the planning side, while DLNR officials will be working directly with the community on various projects.

Steve Olive, Program Coordinator, said the community-based project proposals “will be competitive, in the $10,000 to $15,000 range, for projects throughout the State. If they make it through the screening process, they will be granted an award.” An announcement for the community-based programs is scheduled to come out in July.

Projects that might qualify for funding include “coral reef monitoring, education, encouraging a new type of practice at a place where there are lots of scuba divers, educating divers where they don’t damage the reef, water quality monitoring, monitoring through visual practices, engaging the community in putting up signs on how to care for the reef.” Olive said “the key is the community coming together to care for the reef in some way, with an emphasis on projects that have a measurable benefit.” Some projects on Kaua’i that might benefit from these funds include Save Our Sea’s coral reef monitoring project, implemented by Carl Stepath, that involved students in reef surveys; the Niumalu-Nawiliwili Watershed Council’s plans to monitor water quality in Nawiliwili; and the Hanalei Heritage River Hui’s efforts to develop a comprehensive management plan for the Hanalei watershed.

Tim Johns, DLNR Chairperson, stated in a press release that the $225,000 grant “will allow Hawai’i to support new community-based management and education programs aimed at increasing public support and involvement in caring for our coral reefs.

“These funds will also be used to support ocean tourism activities at Molokini shoal off Maui, through the installation of additional day-use moorings at the popular dive and snorkel site.

“In addition, the funds will support research to assess the impacts of derelict fishing gear on our reefs, and patterns of use at four marine protected sites around the state.” Kaua’i does not have any State-protected marine areas such as Marine Life Conservation Districts or Natural Area Reserves.

Olive said “this is our first year with this grant. We’re hoping that it will be a regular yearly allocation. Right now the senate is considering a bill that was passed in the House of Representatives.” Olive said both Inouye and Akaka have been supportive of the program.

The original bill for continued funding of the program is H.B. 2123. Akaka has signed on to a slightly revised bill, H.B.

2181, that specifically earmarks money for coral reef management.

Olive works for the Coastal Zone Management (CZM) program, which is funded by an annual allocation of $1.15 million. In addition to marine education programs, he said the State CZM office “administers special management area permits for all the counties, as well as shoreline variance permits.” “We’re very, very excited about this. We spent seven years on developing this coral reef initiative. Olive said a group of CZM program managers, including Doug Tom from Hawaii and others from Guam, American Samoa, and Micronesia articulated the need for coral reef management and how important those resources are.

“They got the ball rolling and brought it to the attention of the federal government.

About two or three years ago, the President picked up on this and established the coral reef task force, including representatives from Florida, the Caribbean, and the Pacific..

“Hawai’i has about 70 percent of the coral reefs in the United States,” he added.

According to a Coral Reef Initiative press release, “with increasing threats from growing coastal populations, development, pollution, over-fishing, destructive fishing practices (e.g. poisons, explosives), ship groundings and anchor damage, it is imperative that society protects these resources for not only their natural, but human and economic assets as well.

D. James Baker, NOAA Administrator and Co-chair for the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, explained the gravity of the situation by indicating that “two thirds of the world’s reefs may be dying and if current conditions continue, an alarming 70 percent of the world’s reefs may be gone by 2050.” Through this anticipated yearly grant, Hawai’i will be able to discover innovative solutions to reef decline, reduce human impacts, and respond appropriately to management issues that are aimed at preserving Hawai’i’s “rain forests of the sea.”

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