Several South Kona residents spoke out Monday against the state authorizing two commercial kayak tour companies to resume operations at Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park while a moratorium continues on all other kayaks, vessels, watercraft and flotation devices.
About a dozen people staged a “peaceful protest” at the bay to oppose the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ decision to put commercial needs before the recreational and cultural needs of residents. Such action is not pono, said Gordon Leslie, a Kealakekua Bay resident and chairman of the community association, Malama Pono Kealakekua, who has been involved in DLNR’s plans for the park since 1971.
Leslie said it’s unfair that residents are prohibited from operating, launching, transiting, beaching or landing kayaks and other vessels from Napoopoo, within the waters of Kealakekua Bay and at Kaawaloa Flats. Instead, residents, who are allowed to swim and snorkel in the bay, are left watching the continuing desecration and disrespect to sacred sites at Kaawaloa, he said.
Leslie was disappointed about the state’s decision to allow only the two commercial kayak tour companies to use Napoopoo Landing, which is later locked, making parking very limited in the area.
He also disliked that DLNR authorized nearly 100 permits for motorized boats to enter the bay and questioned why recreational vessels couldn’t do the same. These drift-in permits prohibit the deployment of additional watercraft from the boat, discharging of passengers at Napoopoo Wharf or Kaawaloa unless there’s an emergency, and contact or disturbance of any marine mammals and other ocean life within the Marine Life Conservation District in the bay.
Protesters were also concerned about the state’s inability to address the lingering illegal activities by hikers using the open trail from Napoopoo Road to Kaawaloa. They want a comprehensive management plan, with a curator program and consistent enforcement presence, that addresses all concerns in place before any user group is allowed to proceed. They are circulating a petition in the community.
DLNR Chairman William Aila Jr. was aware of the protest Monday, adding organizers informed him prior of their intentions to show opposition. However, he was not pleased to learn the lock on the wharf’s gate had glue in the lock’s keyhole, he added.
Leslie said protesters did not interact with DLNR personnel, the kayak companies or their guests, only waved signs to those passing by. He did, however, notice the companies had parked away from the wharf and hauled their kayaks there, but just assumed a key was missing or someone forgot to unlock the gate.
Aila stressed residents have access to the bay via swimming and snorkeling. Aila also said he understands residents’ needs to get back into the bay with their recreational vessels and reassured DLNR is working as quickly as it can with the Attorney General’s Office to make this happen.
Managing the hikers and addressing the concerns at Kaawaloa are also on the department’s to-do list. DLNR is looking into a permitting process, Aila said.
As for public access to the wharf, Aila said the situation is complicated because DLNR wants to prevent any loopholes or illegal activities that first caused the moratorium. The moratorium went into effect this year and was, in part, an effort to crack down on illegal kayak vendors renting the vessels to tourists at the state park. Aila added, Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement officers will be at the park as often and as long as they are needed.
DLNR recently approved permits for the return of two commercial kayak tour companies — Aloha Kayaks and Kona Boys — at Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park as part of its multistage efforts to improve the management, quality and sustainability of this heavily visited and significant natural and cultural resources. The Division of State Parks is now the sole authority for permitting the launching at Napoopoo and regulating the use of the water, which was previously under the Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation’s authority.
The approved companies are authorized to launch kayaks from Napoopoo Landing so guided tour clients may traverse the bay and land a limited number of patrons at Kaawaloa Flats. Their permits set conditions for these operations, including limitations on the number of landings and areas of use at Kaawaloa, the number of customers per trip, the duration of landings, and the requirement of having a portable toilet, Aila said.
“The kayak companies are also required to remove litter and rubbish and engage in other stewardship activities as determined by the Division of State Parks,” said State Parks Administrator Dan Quinn.
Aloha Kayaks and Kona Boys may use the Napoopoo parking under special use permits. Generally, vehicles are restricted at Napoopoo Landing, but pedestrian traffic is allowed.