photo unavailable Gathering Place

Richard Roshon

Sunday, September 5, 2004

Ruling in thrill craft
case may doom humpbacks
in the waters off Maui

Throughout the 1980s the Department of Land and Natural Resources held meetings in Lahaina in reference to Jet Ski and parasail activities operating in the shallow protected offshore waters of West and South Maui -- the prime mating area designated as a marine sanctuary for North Pacific humpback whales.

Hundreds of people -- residents, fishermen, marine organizations, visitors -- attended these meetings faithfully.

Our goal was simple; we wanted a complete ban of all thrill craft, not a partial ban.

We wanted a complete ban to protect reef ecosystems, bait fishing grounds and a clean water environment. Over and over again, I brought to the attention of officials at these meetings, "If thrill craft activities are not completely eliminated, like a disease they will come back to haunt you."

The result was a 1991 law banning commercial thrill craft such as Jet Skis and other high-speed boats in waters off of south and west Maui from Dec. 15 through May 15, when an estimated 5,000 humpbacks migrate to Hawaiian waters to breed, calve and nurse.

Fast forward to July 2004 and U.S. District Court Judge Susan Oki Mollway decision deeming the annual five-month ban on thrill craft unconstitutional. I deem this judgment an insult to nature.

Mollway's decision resulted from a challenge to the law by UFO Chuting of Hawaii and Kaanapali Tours, two parasail boat operators on Maui whose businesses have been shut down every winter by the seasonal ban. If the state of Hawaii does not appeal this ruling, thrill craft will operate throughout the year, opening the door for other companies.

Then not only will the sightings of whales, porpoise, dolphins and green sea turtles become rare, but our reefs will suffer as well as water quality.

Much of my younger life was spent living on board a sailboat on the offshore water of Maui. In the early 1950s, from November through May, North Pacific humpback whales and their young would lie peacefully and undisturbed throughout the day along the fringing reefs of South and West Maui. Those are my memories of the past.

With the introduction of thrill craft, the offshore waters of Maui came under an everyday assault of continuous noise and fuel pollution. There are volumes of documents written in reference to how noise affects humans, such as high blood pressure and stress.

Whales and other marine mammals are 20 times as sensitive to sound as humans. So multiply the engine noise you hear by 20, and see how that bothers you. And consider the fact that the oceans are the world's largest echo chamber, where sound travels five times farther than it does in our atmosphere.

To preserve and protect our natural resources, people must speak out against this court ruling. Don't sit on your okoles and say, "How can they do that?" For they are you, because you did nothing to stop this assault. Do something now; it only takes a few moments to e-mail or make a phone call. It only takes a few moments to protect a natural habitat that has existed since the beginning of time.

If thrill craft are allowed to run during the winter months, I predict that offshore sightings of all marine life will cease in the years to come. If they are allowed to run at all, then implement the ban from Nov. 1 through May 15, instead of Dec. 15 through May 15.

I will be submitting letters to more than 150 newspapers and magazines urging people to speak out against lifting the ban on thrill craft. I urge everyone take the time to express your concern. Email friends and ask them to forward their concerns to the governor, legislators, the DLNR and the newspapers.

If this ban is not reinstated, Maui will be known for its unconscious feeling toward nature. I will certainly make sure of that.

It is embarrassing what is happening to marine ecosystems throughout Hawaii.

Richard Roshon, a veteran kayaker and whale watcher, is a photographer, author and lecturer on marine life. He lives in Lahaina, Maui.



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