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11 November 2022

USA quadruples its Hawaiian marine reserve

Monday 29 August 2016 | Published in Regional

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HAWAI‘I – The United States president, Barack Obama, will travel to a remote atoll in the middle of the Pacific this week to recognise the creation of what will become the world’s largest marine reserve.

The White House last week announced that the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument will quadruple in size to cover more 1.5 million square kilometres of ocean to the northwest of Hawaii.

“This diverse ecosystem is home to many species of coral, fish, birds, marine mammals, and other flora and fauna,” the president said in his official proclamation.

“In addition, this area has great cultural significance to the native Hawaiian community to early Polynesian culture worthy of protecting and understanding.”

The sanctuary was first created by President George W Bush in 2006 and declared a World Heritage Area in 2010, but r Obama’s announcement, which will be formally made when he visits Hawai‘i and Midway on Wednesday and Thursday, will more than quadruple its size to about 1.5 million square kilometres, double the size of the state of Texas.

Commercial fishing and mineral extraction such as deep sea mining will be prohibited within its boundaries – but scientific exploration, recreational fishing and subsistence fishing by native Hawaiians would be allowed by permit, the White House said in a statement.

The monument is one of the Obama’s grandest environmental statements as he works to cement his post-presidential legacy.

The president has gone to great pains to highlight his administration’s protection of hundreds of millions of hectares of American land, more than any other president.

He has also expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, to the south and west of Hawai‘i.

The Papahanaumokuakea monument is home to more than 7000 marine species, a quarter of which are found nowhere else on earth. These include rare species such as the threatened green turtle and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, a 4500-year-old black coral, and millions of birds.

Hawai‘i may ban swimming with dolphins

HAWAI‘I – The days of tourists swimming with dolphins off Hawaiian shores may soon come to an end.

Federal officials from the National Marine Fisheries Service have proposed new rules that would prohibit human interaction with Hawaiian spinner dolphins to within 50 yards or approximately 45 metres.

The species, active at night foraging for food in deep waters, returns during the day to shallow waters near shore to rest, nurtures their young, and participates in other social behaviours.

The guidelines are meant to protect the dolphins during this critical downtime, as well as shield them from potentially stressful interactions with tourism groups.

“At some locations, up to 13 tour boats have been observed jockeying for position on a single dolphin group, with up to 60 snorkelers in the water,” the officials shared in their report.

“Apart from commercial tour operations, people also swim, kayak, or paddle into essential daytime habitats to seek interactions with the dolphins.”

National Marine Fisheries Service official Ann Garett said that all of these outside influences can contribute to an increase in chronic stress for the dolphins. “That’s what we’re concerned about,” she added.

The agency had originally considered enforcing a 100-yard (90 metre) restriction to remain consistent with one currently governing interactions with humpback whales, but decided to halve the distance so as not to “diminish both the experience of dolphin watching and opportunities to participate in dolphin watching.”

If passed, the dolphin restriction would apply anywhere in waters within two nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands and in the waters between the islands of Lanai, Maui and Kahoolawe.

While some dolphin excursion operators have railed against the proposed rules, others say such regulations are long overdue.

“People chase the dolphins with their selfie sticks,” Victor Lozano, owner of Dolphin Excursions in Oahu, said. “You go on safari – you don’t go out to the lion and try to pet it.”

NOAA Fisheries is accepting public comment for 60 days on the proposed regulations.

A decision on the matter will likely be decided within the next 12 months.

- Oceana