Early funding goal met for monk seal facility groundbreaking

LIHU‘E — Two weeks after announcing an additional $150,000 was needed to begin construction of a new Hawaiian monk seal hospital in Kona, Big Island, project leaders said the goal has been reached and more contributions are still on the way.

“This new Hawaiian monk seal hospital, now about to become a reality, is one of the most significant steps forward in saving this species,”  Tim Robinson, projects coordinator for the Kaua‘i Monk Seal Watch Program, said Wednesday.

 “Whether healing one of our Main Hawaiian Islands seals, or rehabilitating a seal from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and returning it to those islands — actions at this facility will save animals that, quite possibly, would perish otherwise,” he said.

Robinson, who is Kaua‘i representative on the fundraising committee for the Kona facility, said the news about the donations is very positive for Kaua‘i and its seals. It punctuates the dedication of the island’s volunteers at the Kaua‘i Monk Seal Watch Program and the Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation Hui, he said.

Jeff Boehm, executive director of California-based The Marine Mammal Center, which is leading the Hawaiian Monk Seal Healthcare Facility project, said  the matching grant goal of $150,000 has already been met “by a very healthy margin.”

Boehm had said on Jan. 18 the planned recovery facility for the endangered monk seals would cost $3.2 million, but $1.7 million was needed to break ground and begin basic operations. Recent donations of $650,000 brought the groundbreaking goal of $150,000 closer to reality.

On Wednesday, Boehm announced the goal had been reached.

“We can begin construction on a hospital for Hawaiian monk seals,”  Boehm said, adding that construction could start as early as this summer.

The Marine Mammal Center has rescued and healed more than 17,000 seals on the Mainland since 1975, and has worked for more than a decade in conjunction with Hawaiian organizations and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on monk seal rescue and rehabilitation efforts.

The new hospital on the Big Island will be a branch of the California-based center.

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