Scientists allowed to study marine monument
The state Board of Land and Natural Resources approved permits yesterday allowing scientists to perform research at the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands despite a call from protesters for a moratorium on such permits.
Scientists awarded the permits are from the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology of the University of Hawaii. They will conduct research of the environment at the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
Conditions for joint federal and state research permits were changed, satisfying Marti Townsend, interim executive director of Kahea, the Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, and other protesting organizations such as the Ilioulaokalani Coalition and the Waikiki Civic Club.
Townsend said she was glad because the changes provide some protection for the monument against "bioprospecting." Bioprospecting is the "analysis of plants and animals for genetic material, chemical or other biological products that could have commercial applications," according to Dan Polhemus, administrator of the state Division of Aquatic Resources.
Policies on bioprospecting have yet to be developed. A temporary commission made up of scientists, cultural practitioners, attorneys and others was recently formed to come up with policy recommendations. Commission members plan to offer their recommendations to lawmakers by next year's legislative session.
Though Townsend said she was glad that some protection against bioprospecting was made, she said she was disappointed that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association ship, Hiialakai, was granted approval by board members to release untreated sewage in the national monument's waters.
Lt. Kurt Dreflak of the Hiialakai testified before board members that the ship will not discharge into state waters.
Board members can only make decisions concerning discharge in state waters, Polhemus said, adding that certain types of discharge are allowed in federal waters. The ship was granted access to state waters because it wasn't proposing to violate state law, he added.
Brian Bowen, acting director for the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, said research is needed to determine the best management of the monument.
Bowen said scientists at the institute support the ban on bioprospecting and are not collecting samples to develop commercial products.
"We have signed a waiver that we will get no patents, no financial benefits and we will not own any of the specimens that come out of the monument. Those are strictly the property of the state of Hawaii," Bowen said.
The Hiialakai is scheduled to depart for the islands on July 7.
Board OKs rule on lay-net fishing to protect seals
The state Board of Land and Natural Resources approved a regulation to provide better protection for endangered Hawaiian monk seals after two died from entanglement in lay gill nets.
The approval gives the board the ability to approve temporary closures on short notices of specific areas for lay-net fishing, said Dan Polhemus, administrator of the Division of Aquatic Resources.
Officials will focus on Rabbit Island and Makai Pier.
A Hawaiian monk seal drowned May 27 after it was entangled in a gill net off of Makua Beach. Fisherman John P. Kahalekii was recently charged with using a lay net longer than 125 feet and failing to inspect and register it.
Another monk seal, nicknamed Penelope, drowned on Oct. 16 after it became caught in a lay gill net near Makai Pier off Oahu.