State to compile EIS for whale sanctuary


The state’s involvement in updating a whale sanctuary management plan has triggered the need for an environmental impact statement.

Department of Land and Natural Resources officials filed an EIS preparation notice in Tuesday’s edition of the Office of Environmental Quality Control’s twice-monthly Environmental Report. The DLNR and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration co-manage the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.

Thousands of endangered North Pacific humpback whales make their way from Alaska to Hawaii each winter to mate, calve and nurse their young. The sanctuary, encompassing roughly 1,400 square miles of ocean, is the only place in the nation where humpbacks reproduce.

NOAA last updated its management plan for the sanctuary, created in 1992, in 2002. NOAA began reviewing the plan in 2010, with community meetings and seeking public input. DLNR’s position as a state agency and co-manager for the sanctuary triggered the need for the environmental review, according to the preparation notice. Members of the public may comment on the preparation notice through Feb. 7 by sending written inquiries and comments to Sanctuary Management, Department of Land & Natural Resources, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, 1151 Punchbowl St. Room 330, Honolulu, HI 96813 or by fax to 587-0115.

NOAA officials received more than 12,000 submissions in 2010 from within Hawaii and around the world. Following the receipt of those comments, the sanctuary put together working groups on a variety of topics. The groups’ final recommendations were adopted in January 2012. Recommendations include a study or test of a 14-knot speed limit during whale season and maintaining a thrill craft ban around Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe. The study would look at several questions, including what a reasonable, safe speed could be and island-specific issues, such as shipping and military traffic in each island’s waters.

One working group also recommended the sanctuary, government entities and the university system do more to respond to entangled large whales. The group called for more public outreach on the dangers of entanglement, as well as approaching and harassing whales, including increased media announcements and use of social media to spread information.

Group members also called on the sanctuary to “help identify and fill humpback whale research gaps. We can’t protect what we don’t understand.”