Meeting to discuss overcrowding at Molokini on Maui

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Snorkeling at Molokini Crater is one of the most popular things to do while visiting Maui—but is it becoming too overcrowded? 

The Department of Land and Natural Resources aquatic division has been studying impacts at Molokini for a decade. 

DAR says new evidence suggests that some marine predators are being displaced by high human use at Molokini Marine Life Conservation District. 

According to DAR, a study in 2016 found that 50% of omilu were displaced outside of the shallow crater into deeper water when the number of boats exceeded 12. 

“Although the coral reef habitat appears to remain healthy, the displacement of key reef predators is an indication that high human use is affecting this fully protected reserve,” DLNR said in a statement. 

Currently 40 commercial boats are permitted to go to Molokini, but there’s only 26 moorings. Those rules were enacted back in 1995 and haven’t been changed since. 

Based on their studies, DAR/DLNR suggested 12 be the number of boats allowed at Molokini at one time. 

But that suggestion didn’t go well with commercial boat operators. 

Commercial operators say their time is already limited due to strong winds that hit the area around 11 a.m. 

“In our opinion it’s an unnecessary knee jerk reaction,” said Jim Coon, president of Ocean Tourism Coalition.

“It’s just hard for us to accept the fact they want to do this change in our ability to operate from having access to 26 moors down to 12 moorings without any reasonable justification at all,” said president of Calypso Charters Phil Kasper. 

The tour operators say they’d go out of business if only 12 boats were allowed at a given time. 

Therfore, they went to the legislature to create HB1133 and SB1403 which would allow 20 boats and only allow permitted boats to Molokini. 

A recent study from the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii recently labeled Molokini as one of the state’s healthies reefs, another argument from tour operators to DLNR. 

“We don’t currently have a problem at Molokini and in our opinion this is a solution looking for a problem,” Coon said. 

DAR says non-commercial use of Molokini is a higher priority than commercial use. \

“The general public boater goes out there and finds commercial boats coming and going, they try and tie up to a mooring a commercial boat wants to use and there’s this inherent conflict, it’s just an intimidating place,” said Russell Sparks, aquatic biologist with DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources. 

“We want to make sure that those who want to go there have the ability to go there,” he said. 

A meeting will be held at Kihei Community Center on Thursday, March 21. 

DAR says they’ll bring up several proposals like having two dedicated moorings for non-commercial boaters only 24-hours a day. Another proposal would be changing the time frame for commercial use only to 10:30 a.m., so all moorings would be open to anyone at a first come, first serve basis from 10:30 a.m. and on. 

“There’s definitely a lot of good that comes out of the marine tour industry. Our goal here is just to make sure we control it, put the appropriate management controls in place to prevent it from getting out of hand,” Sparks said. 
 

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