Humpback whale
Image: courtesy NOAA

The state is formally joining the process to create a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) that will look at the implications of an ecosystem approach to managing the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

Such an approach means management would no longer be focused solely on the endangered humpback whale, but on the health of its marine ecosystem as a whole. “It’s a Hawaiian-based approach to management,” says Elia Herman, sanctuary co-manager for the state. “It’s very place-based and community-based.”

Though many people endorse the concept of ecosystem management, its application in the sanctuary has met with opposition from ocean users who worry it will result in more direct federal control over Hawaiian waters and resources.

“I have heard others express fear of federal takeover of state waters, fear of losing access to fishing areas, fear of halts to canoe paddling and surfing,” wrote Makaala Kaaumoana, a member of the Sanctuary Advisory Council and executive director of the Hanalei Watershed Council. “Let’s get real and recognize that without help from the sanctuary and a real change in how our marine resources are managed, there will continue to be declines of our marine resources and in the connection that we have to the ocean.”

“Federal regulations trump state laws and considerations,” wrote Kauai resident Lyn McNutt in an email to the Weekly. “So, with the addition of all the species under consideration (seals, corals, false killer whales, to name a few), the federal government (National Marine Fisheries Service), through the sanctuary system, could very effectively take over jurisdiction.”

That’s why some 6,000 Kauai residents signed a petition opposing any changes to the Sanctuary, McNutt says.

Herman says she recognizes the concept is “scary” to some people because “the experience in Hawaii has been, if a federal agency is involved, there are more regulations and restrictions. But our approach is fundamentally different. There’s a collaboration. It gives the state the ability to drive and affect the management the federal government can take.”

The state is joining the DEIS process in part to satisfy Hawaii environmental protection laws and also to emphasize its role as co-manager of the Sanctuary, which was created in 1998. “It’s another formal way to demonstrate that relationship and that cooperation,” Herman says.

Meanwhile, the public has an opportunity to submit comments that will help shape preparation of the DEIS. The document will include a draft management plan and an analysis of the range of management options available, including maintaining the status quo, Herman says. The DEIS likely will be completed in spring 2014, and will be subject to statewide public hearings.

Comments are due by Feb. 7 and may be submitted to [email: dlnr.sanctuary].