Shark tours off Maunalua do not sail


POSTED: Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Plans to launch a shark-encounter tour three miles off Maunalua Bay were scuttled yesterday after an uproar from East Honolulu residents.

Iolani Lewis called off his plans to set up his operation in a couple of months after a growing number of people and groups cited public safety concerns because the bay is heavily used for water recreational activities, according to state Rep. Gene Ward.

Lewis could not be reached for comment.

Ward (R, Hawaii Kai-Kalama Valley) said he spoke to Lewis and commended his decision. A 7 p.m. public meeting is still scheduled to be held tomorrow at Kamiloiki Elementary School's cafeteria to discuss what the community can do to prevent a similar operation's start-up.

Recent sightings of a shark cage atop a boat called the Snoopy V docked next to Kona Brewing Co. in Koko Marina sparked an outcry. Community members also said they were worried that the operation could adversely affect the bay's marine life.

In a written statement, Alyssa Miller, coordinator of Malama Maunalua, which is dedicated to restoration of the bay's water quality, said she is pleased with Lewis' decision but remains concerned the shark tour operation proposal got as far as it did.

“;This bay is in serious trouble, with pollutants, sediment runoff and invasive algae already causing a host of problems. What we don't need are tour boats chumming the waters in order to draw sharks to areas used by paddlers, swimmers and a host of other bay users. One has to ask, What were they thinking?”; she said.

Shark expert John Naughton said Lewis made a wise decision and that more research is needed. “;I think it's a good idea for them to step back and look at the big picture.”;

Naughton, who retired last year after 40 years as a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, had said he was concerned with the proliferation of shark-encounter tour operations around the islands, behavioral changes of near-shore sharks and the copious amounts of chum needed to attract sharks south of Maunalua Bay as there is no natural concentration of sharks there.

“;There's a lot of unanswered questions. It's something we need to take a hard look at,”; he said.