Ruling protects Hawaiian monk seal habitats
A ruling that protects Hawaiian monk seal habitats is being hailed as an important step towards preventing their extinction.
A ruling to protect the habitat of Hawaiian monk seals is being hailed as an important step towards preventing their extinction.
Fisheries authorities in the United States issued a final decision last week which gives protection to almost 11,000 square kilometres of critical habitat for the highly endangered seals.
Leilani Momoisea reports.
An advocate for Hawaiian monk seals, Trisha Kehaulani Watson, says it took a number of years, and a lot of negotiating, to get the protection for the seals, who are among the world's most endangered marine mammals. She says there were fears protection might mean an explosion in the seal population. But Trisha Kehaulani Watson says this wouldn't be the case for the rare and solitary creatures. There are only 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals left in the world compared to New Zealand's fur seal population of about 200,000.
TRISHA KEHAULANI WATSON: The Hawaiian monk seal, because the numbers have so significantly fallen of this population, this is not a seal people had seen. So there was just a lot misunderstanding, and confusion, and misinformation spreading. And unfortunately it got to the point where we had people shooting seals, people clubbing seals, that level of conflict and violence here which is really, really sad when you have a critically endangered animal.
Critical habitat for the monk seal around the Northwestern Hawaiian islands was previously designated in 1986. The new ruling now protects all coastal areas of the main Hawaiian islands, which seals are increasingly recolonizing. About 200 currently inhabit that area. The National Marine Fisheries Service ruling means anyone who requires a federal permit for activity in the protected area, will have to undergo a review on whether or not they will impact or harm the monk seal habitat. Trisha Kehaulani Watson says there is no easy solution to recovering the population, but protection rules for the seals' habitat will help.
TRISHA KEHAULANI WATSON: This is another tool in that tool box, and it's an important one. I think this will not be a silver bullet but I think it's an important step along the way to recovering monk seals. It's a great step, it's important and really it was a good week for us.
A board member of KAHEA, the Hawaiian Environmental Alliance, Bianca Isaki, says they had hoped the ruling would be more comprehensive, but it is still a significant step towards protecting a species that's very important to Hawaiian culture.
BIANCA ISAKI: Because there's such a close tie between Hawaii's native natural resources, and all the cultural practices, it is hugely important and there has been much testimony on the cultural, spiritual and historical connections between monk seals and Hawaiians.
Trisha Kehaulani Watson says there has been universal support for the final critical habitat rule, which is a tremendous achievement for the conservation sector.
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