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Hawaii humpback sanctuary management review beginning now: will noise be on the table?

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The Hawaiian Islands Humback Whale National Marine Sanctuary is beginning a review of its management plan, and ocean noise activists are pushing for sanctuary managers to bring noise issues to the forefront.  The Sanctuary was established in 1992 to help protect the humpback whale winter nursery grounds in shallow waters around several of the islands.

Beginning this month, and continuing through the spring, Sanctuary managers are hosting a series of pre-scoping “working group” meetings on several islands, which are designed to gather input from various interest groups, especially those who have not been involved in Sanctuary planning in the past.  Some time this summer, a formal scoping period is expected to initiate the process of assessing and likely revising the current management plan. See the Sanctuary Management Plan Newsletter for more on this process.

The Maui Weekly ran an article this week in which several ocean noise campaigners expressed their hopes that this process might lead to more formal protection from noise pollution sources, including boats and Navy sonar training. Dr. Marcia Green of the Ocean Mammal Institute and International Ocean Noise Coalition said it’s “imperative” that the Sanctuary follow the guidelines on noise federally issued in 2007 by NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary System Director Dan Basta and “use the tools at their disposal to prevent or mitigate human-induced acoustic impacts on marine life. I think they may have forgotten this policy,” Green said.

Green and others are concerned key issues such as noise, ship strikes, and ocean pollution are not on the agenda for the Working Group meetings; Sanctuary Superintendent Naomi McIntosh notes that “These are issues—and we are prepared to address them as well—but we’re looking more towards establishing a broader future outlook,” said McIntosh. “One of our main points is to ask if the sanctuary should possibly include other marine resources, and look beyond humpback whales, and concentrate on all areas in coastal waters.”

“Let’s address immediate problems,” said Green. “This is still an endangered species. This is a golden opportunity to actually do something to make it a sanctuary,  Let’s work together to make it a real sanctuary, not a sanctuary in name only.”

As the Working Group meetings continue, expect to see continued reminders of the noise issues; and, when the time comes for the formal planning to begin, there will be opportunities to submit comments during the scoping period, as well as after a Draft Management Plan is released (not likely until at least 2011).

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