East Hawaii News

NOAA Decides Against Proposed Sanctuary Expansion

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Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary file image.

Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary file image.

NOAA will keep the Hawaiian Island Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary as it was originally intended, a sanctuary to protect humpback whales and their habitat.

The announcement followed the HIHWNMS Advisory Council meeting on Tuesday.

NOAA issued a draft management plan and proposed rules in March 2015, and opened a public process and comment period that would have moved the national marine sanctuary from focusing on the humpback whale and its habitat to a national marine sanctuary with an expanded boundary that would encompass a broader ecosystem.


John Armor, Acting Director of the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, noted following the decision that a large amount of input from the community on all sides of the proposal was received, including input from the state.

“HIHWNMS is co-managed by the state of Hawai’i, therefore, any management action must be supported by the state,” said Armor. “On Jan. 22, 2016, NOAA received a letter from the state of Hawai’i regarding the future of the sanctuary with concerns regarding the March 2015 proposal.

“After listening to input from the community and the state, NOAA is withdrawing the proposal to expand sanctuary conservation around Hawai’i.


“HIHWNMS will continue in its present form, conserving and protecting humpback whales and providing needed research support and public education.  NOAA will publish a notice in the Federal Register formally withdrawing the March 2015 proposal.”

Congress established the HIHWNMS in 1992. The sanctuary is located from the shoreline to 600 feet in depth off of the North Kona coast of the Big Island, Maui Nui, including Penguin Bank, and off the north of Kauai, as well as the north and south shores of Oahu.

NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and the State of Hawai‘i, through the Department of Land and Natural Resources, co-manage the sanctuary.


“The Hawaii Dept. of Land and Natural Resources consistently works to implement an integrated, ecosystem-based approach to management.  We believe strongly that this can only be achieved through partnerships in which each entity builds upon and leverages its unique strengths,” said DLNR Chair Suzanne Case. “The Sanctuary has done this extraordinarily well with humpback whales for over 20 years and we had hoped that this expertise could be extended to other marine mammals.

“Although ultimately the Sanctuary will not have an expanded purpose, we look forward to building upon its accomplishments, as well as highlighting its successes, particularly the Sanctuary’s world-renowned entanglement response program, at the World Conservation Congress coming to Hawai’i in September.”

DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources Administrator Bruce Anderson said in a statement that “we will continue working with the appropriate divisions within NOAA, as well as communities and ocean users, to build upon the successes of the Sanctuary and better manage all of our protected species. This includes addressing the threat of harassment to spinner dolphins and of toxoplasmosis to Hawaiian monk seals and other marine mammals.

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