Keep your distance from marine wildlife

It’s always exciting when we see turtles, dolphins, whales and manta rays. Self-guided or commercial tours that offer marine-life encounters bring large numbers of Hawaii visitors and residents into close proximity with wild creatures. Who could ever forget their encounter with a giant green seat turtle or a spinner dolphin on the Napali Coast?

What people don’t know is how their behaviors could effect these wonderful creatures we find so fascinating.

That’s a reason why the Department of Land and Natural Resources is working with federal and county partners on strategies to promote responsible wildlife viewing and reduce the impact of marine ecotourism on wildlife.

“It’s important for government, scientists and operators to find ways to adequately protect marine species while allowing interactions that are conducted in the right way,” said Bruce Anderson, administrator for the DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources. “Our shared goal is to increase awareness and to build a constituency dedicated to preserving and protecting Hawaii’s ocean resources over the long-term.”

DLNR’s Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation trying to determine what protections may be needed to better manage congestion at sites popular for manta ray viewing.

The Department is also supporting a proposed rule by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which would prohibit approaching a Hawaiian spinner dolphin within 50 yards by any means. This would include commercial swim-with-dolphins programs.

“We believe NOAA’s preferred option is reasonable,” Anderson said. “Two of the five initial alternatives involved closing off entire areas designated as essential daytime habitats. We felt that was going a little too far, but we can support approach rules and eliminating swim-with-dolphins activities.”

Numerous marine wildlife programs and volunteer community-based stewardship groups also help promote environmental stewardship, and provide a friendly and guiding presence at the most-visited sites where popular marine species such as sea turtles or monk seals come ashore to rest.

The threatened green sea turtle is commonly seen in Hawaii’s nearshore waters as well as on the beaches basking, and occasionally nesting. The endangered hawksbill sea turtle (‘ea) is rarer.

Hawaiian monk seals have also become more common on beaches in the main Hawaiian Islands.

When viewing these and protected species of dolphins and whales, it is important to view them responsibly to ensure your safety and their protection:

w Give Hawaiian monk seals ample space and stay behind any roped off areas

w View sea turtles on land and in the water from a respectful distance of three meters

w Remain at least 150 feet from spinner dolphins and other whales and dolphins

w Do not do not chase, touch, or feed any marine life, including coral.

Hawaii’s indigenous marine wildlife, including humpback whales, false killer whales, spinner dolphins and Hawaiian monk seals, are protected by both state and federal laws.

While there is currently no law specifying the minimum distance people can approach a marine mammal, getting close to close to these animals could get you into trouble if the animal is disturbed or if your actions disturb its natural behavioral patterns.

While we all love and delight in seeing monk seals, turtles and dolphins, let’s do so from a distance.


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