Marine Conservation Biology in Hawaii

How Stuff Gets Done
by -- March 23rd, 2015

We started the day a little later than usual, which allowed us all much needed time to recover from the previous night’s festivities – a “surprise” Bubbies ice cream cake for our fearless leader Andy to celebrate his nomination to become Chairman of the Marine Mammal Commission (Congratulations Andy!). We all survived (except for the ice cream cake) and were able to head to our destination: the Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) within the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) for the state of Hawaii.

First, we met with Elia Herman, the state co-manager of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (HIHWNMS) and a CEM alum, and Adi Phillips, the Protected Species and Marine Mitigation Law Fellow at DAR. Much of our conversation centered around two recent petitions to delist certain populations of humpback whales from the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) in Hawaii. (www.huffingtonpost.com)

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) in Hawaii. (www.huffingtonpost.com)

We discussed what any changes to the current listing would mean for current state and federal management and how the humpback whales would still have protection under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) no matter what the outcome. The petitions submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the federal agency responsible for managing humpback whales, are just one example of how stuff gets done – in this case, pushing the agency to review scientific information and decide on the proper action for the species.

We also talked about the ESA as an important conservation statute, but one that is not very flexible and not applicable to all cases of endangered species. Elia gave the example of the Hawaiian monk seals that do not live in large congregations like other seal and sea lion species but haul out onto beaches singularly, so protecting a large area as Critical Habitat under the ESA doesn’t make sense. Elia followed up with an interesting point: do management actions actually add conservation value, or are they just creating more administrative work? It’s an important question to consider when faced with management decisions.

Kristen Maize, the Strategic Communications Manager at The Nature Conservancy and yet another CEM alum, joined us for lunch nearby the DLNR building and told us about her recent work with community-based management in Hawaii – yet another example of how stuff gets done. After lunch, we returned to the DAR office for a call with Phil Fernandez, the president of the Hawaiian Fisherman’s Association for Conservation and Tradition (HFACT), who submitted one of the humpback whale petitions in April 2013. It was incredibly interesting to hear more about his position on the potential delisting of humpback whales, but also about endangered species management and its interaction with Hawaiian fisheries.

Our class inside the state capitol.

Our class inside the state capitol.

To end the day, we attended the Senate hearing for a bill that would formally establish the HIHWNMS program in the state. This was perhaps the primary example of how stuff gets done; how details like dates get put into bills, how state government works, how people support or oppose bills, how the public is incorporated into decision making, etc. While it was much quicker than we expected, it was informative and brought the decision making process into perspective.

Very appropriately, “how stuff gets done” has been both a goal and commonly repeated phrase for our class. So far, we’ve gotten to hear how stuff gets done from multiple people and on multiple topics. We’re very lucky to have that understanding, especially through our experiences here in Hawaii which can get very complicated very quickly. For now, we all anxiously await the outcomes of the petitions and the sanctuary bill.

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