Coral reef protection measures are needed in isle waters
A study has concluded that reef fish are disappearing from Hawaiian waters because of deterioration of coral reefs.
A report of degradation of the world's coral reefs was hardly new to aquatic biologists and conservationists trying to protect Hawaii's reef fish and ocean ecosystem. While Hawaii's reefs compare favorably with elsewhere in the Pacific, state legislation is needed to allow new penalties that are appropriate to the damage caused.
Coral reefs in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are isolated and pristine, according to Athline Clark, superintendent of the islands' Papahananaumokuakea Marine National Monument. However, Clark said, reefs off heavily populated areas of the main Hawaiian islands are more degraded.
Scientists attending the International Coral Reef Symposium this week in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., released a study concluding that reef fish are quickly disappearing from coral reefs in Hawaiian waters. While Hawaii's reefs are relatively healthy, federal fisheries ecologist Alan Friedlander told the Los Angeles Times that "we need to protect healthy reefs, because it's so much easier and safer to conserve now than it is to try to rebuild later."
Cognizant of that need, the Lingle administration proposed in this year's Legislature that the Department of Land and Natural Resources be allowed to impose a penalty of up to $5,000 per square meter of coral destroyed. The bill would have allowed the department to use discretion, reducing fines where damage was more inadvertent and the operator had tried to prevent it.
The proposal was approved by the House but jacked up in the Senate to increase the penalty to $10,000 per square meter of coral destroyed. The badly needed legislation died in joint conference near the end of the session.
The change caused the administration to oppose the bill it had initiated. The altered version would have reduced the administration's discretion and introduced "an inappropriate rationale into the process of determining fines for resource damage," Laura H. Thielen, the department's chairwoman, told legislators.
The Legislature and Lingle administration were able to come together on two other bills aimed at protecting the environment, and the governor has signed them into law. One allows fining people who steal or damage natural resources in state-owned forests and coastal areas. A second new law allows fines of up to $10,000 for violating laws aimed at protecting mostly private lands within forests and watersheds of conservation districts.
The success of those bills, which also were altered from the versions proposed by Thielen, shows that agreement can be reached when it comes to protecting Hawaii's environment. Legislative leaders and administration officials should come to terms on coral-reef protection before the session begins in January.