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Marine sanctuary expansion proposed

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary may be expanded to include multiple marine species.

The proposed rule also includes a boundary expansion that adds 235 square miles of state and federal waters around Oahu, Kauai and Niihau, bringing the total sanctuary area to 1,601 square miles, and provide the sanctuary with new opportunities to work closely with communities on priority resource protection issues.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced the proposed rule this week following collaboration with several partners.

There will be two public hearings on Kauai and one on Niihau, as well as on other islands. 

“We welcome further public review and input into our proposed new management plan as we move forward with the important job of managing this special place, which is critical to both the regional economy and communities in Hawaii,” said Malia Chow, sanctuary superintendent. 

In 2012, during the process to review the sanctuary’s management plan, the sanctuary advisory council’s working groups determined that while humpback whales remain the centerpiece of sanctuary protection, there is an increased need and urgency to take a more integrated approach to marine resource management.

The ecosystem-based management approach, as proposed, is backed by science and is consistent with the traditional Hawaiian approach to managing natural and cultural resources, according to a press release. NOAA works with the state of Hawaii, local communities and various stakeholders to protect Hawaii’s natural and cultural resources.

Members of the public are invited to submit comments to the agency on the proposed rule and draft environmental impact statement through June 19.

Following this comment period, a final management plan and environmental impact statement will be prepared through a public process under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Several meetings are planned for the public to learn more about the proposal and submit comments. On Kauai, they are scheduled 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. May 4 at Kilauea Elementary School, and 5:30 to 8:30 May 6 at King Kaumualii Elementary School. A meeting is scheduled 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 5 on Niihau at Niihau School cafeteria, Puuwai Village.

Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is administered by a partnership of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the state of Hawaii through the Department of Land and Natural Resources. 

The sanctuary, which lies within the shallow — less than 600 feet — and warm waters surrounding the main Hawaiian Islands, constitutes one of the world’s most important humpback whale habitats. 

“As we consider how best to manage our resources going forward, the state will be looking carefully at the potential implications of expanding federal jurisdiction within state waters,” said Interim Chair Carty Chang of the Department of Land and Natural Resources. “The state strongly encourages people to comment on the plan.”

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