Citizens: Preserve coral ecosystems by limiting access

Less people, more refuge recommended

By LESTER CHANG

TGI Staff Writer

LIHU’E — The best way to

preserve coral ecosystems, marine life and birds in Northwestern Hawaiian

Islands is to ban diving and fishing tours, improve government regulations and

create a refuge for marine life, federal and state government officials were

told last night.

The region can also be protected by preserving Hawaiian

archeological sites, creating a 50-mile buffer zone around wildlife refuges and

stopping overfishing.

Those were some of the recommendations residents made

at a meeting at Kaua’i Community College. About 60 people attended.

The

meeting and five others statewide are being held at the request of President

Clinton, who has asked the heads of the U.S. departments of Commerce and

Interior for a plan to better protect the reef ecosystem.

Audience members

discussed current and future threats to the region, parts of the region they

want protected, appropriate and inappropriate uses and management

programs.

Current threats, residents said, include motorboat operations

and oil spills, commercialization, military hardware, fragmented regulation

systems and overfishing.

Other people voiced concerns that the area could

be overrun by scientists, commercial operations and tourists.

Kilauea

resident Gary Blaich said he’s concerned about foreign fishing vessels in the

region.

Jonathan Hurd, a Hanapepe fisherman, said only permitted boats

should be allowed in the area and that he would turn in those that are

not.

Related to future threats, residents commented about the potential

for mineral mining, overfishing, chemical testing in the region and passing

ships that might carry hazardous waste

They also said there should be a

ban on taking coral and marine life and mineral harvesting,

Cheryl

Lovell-Obtake of Lihu’e said none of the islands or atolls should undergo any

landfilling for development or projects.

On the issue of appropriate uses,

residents said they favored protection of archeological sites, preserving

Hawaiian cultural gathering rights, educational air tours, research on mammals,

fish and birds, and continuation of limited entry of boats into the

area.

Efforts must be made to rebuild the turtle and seal population, said

Linda Paul, a member of the Audubon Society.

The region can remain a

pristine environment through proper management, residents said. They requested

better communication and defined areas of responsibility among regulating

agencies, independent fishing data, an emergency response plan in case of

accidents, a monitoring system on all vessels and a debris-removal plan.

The nine atolls and islands that run from Nihoa Island to Pearl and Hermes

Atoll are protected by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, according to Barbara Maxfield, a

representative of the agency.

Kure Atoll, a state wildlife sanctuary,

comes under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Land and Natural

Resources. Enforcement is carried out by the Coast Guard.

Any plan that

comes about from the recommendations should be a model for the rest of the

world, said Rob Culbertson, a representative for the Kaua’i branch of the

Sierra Club.

Steve Wheeler, a fisherman, disagreed. He said current

management practices work fine.

Others, including Meph Wyeth of Anahola and

Colette Bryce of Kapa’a, said they just want the area to be left alone.

“We love the place,” Wyeth said.

Miki Lee, a facilitator with the

U.S. Institute for Environmental Conflict Resolution, which conducted the

meeting, said the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which stretch 1,000 miles

northwest of Ni’ihau, is special and should be protected because:

* They

contain 70 percent of all coral reefs within the waters of the United

States.

* More than 90 percent of the Hawaiian population of threatened

green sea turtles nest at French Frigate Shoals.

* Most of the highly

endangered Hawaiian monk seals breed and feed in the region.

* The region

is home to more than 7,000 marine species, including marine invertebrates,

algae, sea grasses, fish, sea turtles and mammals.

* There is greater

diversity in reef habitats than the main Hawaiian islands.

Lee said

recommendations will be reviewed by the U.S. Institute for Environmental

Conflict Resolution in Arizona, and to the departments of Interior and

Commerce, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the Western

Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council. The comments then will be sent to

Clinton.

Yesterday’s meeting and the others are sponsored by the fishery

management council.

Additional comments can be sent to the Institute for

Environmental Conflict Resolution at www.ecr.gov/nwhi or 110 S. Church Ave.,

suite 3350, Tucson, AZ 85701. They can also be faxed to (520)

670-5530.

Staff writer Lester Chang can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225)

or lchang@pulitzer.net

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