Officers, volunteers remain at Laniakea Beach to educate visitors about respecting wildlife

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — Laniakea Beach has long been a focal point for locals and visitors to view wildlife. Every day, for the last decade, hundreds of people have crowded the small area to get a glimpse of sea turtles. Residents say the harassment has gotten worse over the years.

Recent posts on social media have also put a spotlight on the issue — people were shown getting too close to turtles and monk seals as beaches become more crowded from summer tourism.

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Debbie Herrera, the Volunteer and Education Coordinator for Malama na Honu, believes Hawaii needs to shift the narrative. 

“The vast majority of people who come to Laniakea, on O‘ahu’s north shore, pay attention to the signs put up by volunteers from the group,” she said. “We’re trying to focus on people behaving in pono ways, rather than those very few who refuse, despite dozens of cautionary signs or warnings from volunteers, to give green sea turtles on the beach or in the ocean wide berth.”

Malama na Honu was started in 1999 and has more than 100 volunteers watching over a local turtle population. While Herrera believes inappropriate behaviors surrounding sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals will diminish when tourism subsides, she and her group of volunteers will remain on the beach, every day, to educate people about proper viewing etiquette for the state’s marine wildlife.

After the videos of people touching monk seals surfaced, Gov. David Ige declared that violators will be fully prosecuted of the law. According to DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources (DOCARE) Enforcement Chief Jason Redulla, the key is catching them in the act. 

“On one hand social media posts are a valuable investigative tool, but they only go so far. Often, it’s hard to determine time, place, and people from a post,” Redulla said.

DOCARE officers have been assigned to regularly patrol Laniakea after the recent reports of harassment. However, they can’t provide 24-hour coverage on one beach since there are hundreds of miles of beaches to patrol, along with state forests and parks.

“It’s more of a deterrent than a way to catch someone doing something illegal,” said Redulla. “Typically, if there’s a uniformed officer standing on the beach, people are not going to break the law in front of them.”

Hawaiian monk seals and green sea turtles are protected by federal and state laws. Anyone who sees illegal behavior should report it by one of the following ways:

  • Free DLNRTip app for Apple and Android Phones 
  • DOCARE 24-hour hotline:  643-DLNR (3567) 
  • NOAA marine wildlife hotline: 1-888-256-9840 

Visitors are urged to view marine wildlife from a safe distance:

  • 10 ft. for sea turtles
  • 50 ft. for Hawaiian monk seals
  • 50 yds. for dolphins and small whales
  • 100 yds. for humpback whales

Possible fines related to touching or harassing marine life include a Class C Felony, with fines up to $50,000 and/or jail time.

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