The Hawaii National Marine Sanctuary Foundation–the first locally-based chapter of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation–is celebrating its one-year anniversary on Feb. 16. Hawaii NMSF works to inspire, educate and engage the public through support of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
The culturally-rich and diverse marine ecosystems of the sanctuary, which is managed jointly by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the State of Hawaii, is visited by an estimated 10,000 humpbacks annually.
“We’re incredibly proud of Hawaii NMSF’s on-the-ground work in support of the sanctuary,” said NMSF President Jason Patlis, “Hawaii’s unique culture and enthusiastic community made Hawaii the ideal choice for piloting a local chapter, and they are setting an impressive precedent for sanctuaries across the nation.”
The sanctuary was initially established to protect Hawaii’s humpback whales and their habitat, however the sanctuary is considering shifting focus to the condition of the ecosystem as a whole. Hawaii NMSF supports this proposal and is ready to help increase awareness of the sanctuary and all of its resources as it evolves.
“Our goal in our first year was to raise the level of support for the sanctuary,” said Lynette Poncin, Chair of Hawai`i NMSF. “Through community outreach and fundraising, we’re working to protect the endangered humpback whales that depend on healthy sanctuary waters.”
“Humpbacks will continue to be our priority, but we cannot adequately protect them from human impacts and natural changes without considering the whole system,” said Sanctuary Superintendent Malia Chow. “We are grateful for Hawaii NMSF’s support as we consider shifting to a broader ‘place-based’ management approach. We are stronger with their support.”
One of the greatest threats to humpback whales and other marine wildlife is entanglement by marine debris, including abandoned fishing gear. To combat the problem, the Hawaii NMSF supports the Whale Entanglement Response Program. Through fund-raising efforts–and providing equipment used by trained responders–the program raises the level of entanglement reporting. It also increases chances of successful rescues.
National marine sanctuaries–areas in the ocean and Great Lakes designated for their significance to the nation–comprise 14 sites over 170,000 square miles. The NMSF works closely with NOAA to support and strengthen these underwater national treasures. Hawaii NMSF volunteers staff information booths at events throughout the islands including the Maui Fair. Through those efforts, they reach thousands of individuals and showcase the best of the sanctuary. Hawaii NMSF also took the lead in developing an exhibit at Kahului Airport, which is seen by an estimated five million passengers annually.
Also, through partnerships with local restaurants, retail outlets and activity coordinators, the Hawaii NMSF bolsters sanctuary support and raises funds for the organization. In addition, a partnership with Trilogy Excursions has exposed nearly one thousand individuals to the sanctuary through cruises that teach the importance of marine debris clean-up.
Photo: Dr. Louis M. Herman/Wikimedia Commons