NOAA asks for input for monk seal recovery

LIHU‘E — Federal officials are asking the community to actively participate in a plan that could shape the efforts to save the highly endangered Hawaiian monk seal, whose estimated population of 1,300 to 1,400 keeps declining about 4.5 percent a year.

“We have tried to do a very thorough job developing our proposed plans to help recover monk seals and consider the potential positive and negative impacts of those plans on Hawai‘i,” said Charles Littnan, lead scientist for the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. “However, there may be things we have overlooked.”

Littnan said it is important that the community attends the meetings that NOAA will be hosting today and Saturday to share their support, concerns, or alternative ideas to make sure NOAA comes up with the best plan possible. 

“The primary goal for these town hall meetings is to inform the public and clear up many of the myths and misperceptions that are being perpetuated in the community,” said Littnan, adding that he hopes the community shows up at the meetings and ask questions. “We want the public to have as much good information as possible to help them submit the best comments and suggestions they can regardless of their position on monk seals.”

At the scheduled meetings NOAA will provide a presentation and then an informal question-and-answer will follow.

The first meeting is today at Hanalei Elementary School, from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. The second will be Saturday at Hanapepe Public Library, from 3 to 5:30 p.m., and then continuing from 6 to 9 p.m.

NOAA has stated that those meetings are informational purposes only, and no oral public comments for the record will be taken. But on Sept. 17 there will be a formal hearing for public comments — written or verbal — at Wilcox Elementary School in Lihu‘e, from 9 a.m. to noon, and then again from 4 to 7 p.m.

The Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement — recently approved by NOAA National Marine Fisheries Services — is available for download online, and paper copies of the document are available for review at Lihu‘e and Princeville public libraries.

Written requests for paper copies of the Draft PEIS or a USB drive containing the document can be mailed to any of these libraries.

Written comments are being accepted on the Draft Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Actions PEIS until Oct. 17 and can be submitted to monkseal@noaa.gov or to NMFS PIRO, Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Actions PEIS at 1601 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite 1110, Honolulu, HI 96814.

The meetings are accessible to people with disabilities. Requests for sign language interpretation or other auxiliary aids should be made at least five days before the meeting and directed to Rachel Sprague at (808) 944-2200, or to her fax number at (808) 973-2941.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.

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