Friday, June 10, 2005

Kayak tours
draw protests

A company's permit is delayed after critics
cite dolphin conflicts and other concerns

Employees of a tour company that wants to keep running kayak tours from Makua Beach -- and Waianae Coast residents who want them to stop -- packed a state meeting yesterday to push their views.

After more than four hours of testimony for and against the Makua Lani tour group, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources postponed a decision on giving it a new permit for two weeks.

Unless the board grants the group a new permit at its June 24 board meeting, Makua Lani's current permit expires on June 30.

The one-year provisional permit has allowed the nonprofit organization to conduct kayak and snorkeling tours from Makua Beach of Kaena Point State Park, known for its pods of spinner dolphins, under certain conditions.

Those conditions included getting customers out of the water if a dolphin comes within 50 yards; bringing no more than 28 customers per day to the site; providing portable bathrooms and rubbish pickup; and complying with ocean safety guidelines.

Opponents testified yesterday that the company has not complied with those conditions.

And several of them said the company was bringing too many clients, that it was interfering with the dolphins and that it never provided bathroom facilities.

Fishermen said the activity of the tour groups scared fish away from the area, and Hawaiian cultural practitioners said that a commercial activity at the mouth of sacred Makua Valley was offensive to them.

"I think it's very bad because of the problem with the depletion of the akule and other fish in the area and disturbing the behavior pattern of the dolphins," said Makaha resident Jean Connolly. "I think it's an absolute outrage just for the amusement of a few tourists, to impact so negatively on the area."

Land Board Chairman Peter Young said yesterday that the National Marine Fisheries Service, which enforces protection of marine mammals, has received no complaints of Makua Lani bothering dolphins. He also said that he was not aware of reports that the group did not provide bathroom facilities.

Still, Young and board members Tim Johns and Toby Martyn voted yesterday not to renew the group's permit, as recommended by state Parks Department staff. But the seven-member board could not get a four-member majority to deny the permit.

Young said he expects before the next meeting to study statistics about fishing catches in the area.

And he noted that the "user conflicts" at Makua are the kind of concerns that will be addressed this summer and fall as the Department of Land and Natural Resources works on a proposal for an Ocean Recreation Management Area for the Waianae Coast.

Young also asked Makua Lani representatives to see if there is another area of the coastline where they could operate without coming into conflict with fishermen or disturbing the daytime resting place of the dolphins.

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