Whale, watershed groups join forces

HANALEI — Hanalei Watershed Hui and the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary have partnered together to protect their corner of the planet.

Members of the sanctuary said they hope it’ll inspire other community groups to do the same.

“It solidifies a commitment of working together on projects that might not normally get done by one party by themselves,” said Jean Souza, Kauai programs coordinator and volunteer coordinator for the sanctuary. “The best outcomes come from good, lasting partnerships.”

Creating that working relationship was important to members of Hanalei Watershed Hui as well.

“What we sought to do was to strengthen and deepen the cooperative relationship that we have with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) sanctuaries, and NOAA as a whole,” said Makaala Kaaumoana, executive director of Hanalei Watershed Hui.

The two entities signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that outlines the intent to work together to promote whale research, science, education and outreach on Kauai’s North Shore, according to a statement from sanctuary acting superintendent Allen Tom.

Enhancing awareness of biological, cultural and economic values of the sanctuary are also part of the MOA, which has been in the works for more than a year, according to Kaaumoana.

It was initiated by the Watershed Hui, and it’s a way for the North Shore community to possibly use NOAA muscle in future projects.

“It’s a bit of an octopus, NOAA,” Kaaumoana said. “It’s likely that having this agreement will enable some of the other areas of expertise to assist the community in something the community wants to do.”

Whales popped up on the hui’s radar in 2004, when 200 melon-headed whales sought refuge in Hanalei Bay, which is within the sanctuary.

“After that, the Watershed Hui started paying more attention to what that means and working with NOAA sanctuary folks to learn more about those critters,” Kaaumoana said.

The Hanalei Watershed Hui’s community-authored Watershed Action Plan’s focus on water quality issues in Hanalei Bay was a selling point for the partnership because water quality affects humpback whales, according to Tom.

“The organization is working to better understand and improve the sanctuary in Hanalei for whales and for people,” Allen said in his statement.

He also expressed hopes that “other communities within and adjacent to the sanctuary will also look to develop similar MOAs and programs for their own community.”

As of right now, the MOA is really a symbol of the future more than it is a plan for action.

It will likely lead to new educational, outreach, monitoring and researching opportunities in Hanalei, which are still in development, Souza said.

Those opportunities are currently being discussed, and the groups are looking for more people to join in the conversation.

“We’re excited about the potential, but it’s potential,” Kaaumoana said. “So we’ll see if someone thinks of something they’d like to do, or learn about, and then we’ll see if it works.”


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