It was a packed house Tuesday night as hundreds showed up at a town hall meeting to discuss the future of Maunalua Bay.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is proposing that the bay become part of an expanded Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
The bay has been part of the sanctuary for 20 years, but NOAA is proposing additional regulations to protect the marine environment, which will change the management of the bay stretching from Diamond Head to Koko Head.
Rep. Gene Ward, R, Hawaii Kai, Kalama Valley, scheduled the meeting at Hahaione Elementary School after many East Oahu residents and businesses voiced concerns and opposition to the plan.
Opponents say the designation would result in restrictions for bay-users, hurting what is currently a hub of ocean recreation for locals, tourists, businesses and families.
“The way the current regulations are written, there’s an opportunity our commercial operators may not continue operating, which would mean loss of jobs, would mean revenue impact for our shopping centers because tourists come in there,” said Robin Jones with Hawaii Kai Marina Association Board of Directors.
Before the meeting even began, many rallied in front of the school in opposition. They argued that DLNR already oversees activity in the bay and any proposal by NOAA would simply be another layer of similar, if not identical, regulations.
“If the proposal goes through, it would take over state waters. The federal government would have authority over state waters,” said Jones. “We want to keep the bay as it is. It’s already a sanctuary for the humpback whales. Turtles are already protected. Monk seals are already protected. We have all the regulations they are proposing and we don’t need additional bureaucracy and regulations.”
NOAA Sanctuary Superintendent Malia Chow and state Department of Land and Natural Resources chair Suzanne Case addressed the crowd during the meeting.
“We’re already managing the sanctuary waters with the state of Hawaii, so there’s already a federal and state partnership and I would say there’s more than enough work to be done and we’re just helping out resources to help the state of Hawaii,” Chow said.
Case said the state is in the process of gathering information, including what the public has to say.
Ward says he’s heard many complaints. “Some of the proposed regulations are, you would not be able to anchor out here, because if you anchor, you’d damage the coral. That’s some of the concerns the fisherman are concerned about. Like ‘What do you mean, I can’t anchor?!'” he explained.
Chow previously told KHON2 that “there’s nothing in our proposal that restricts access to the bay. Primarily, as a national marine sanctuary, we’re just wanting to make sure that the waters in the sanctuary are and the marine life that exists with it do have some protection.
“If there’s anything in our proposal that closes down businesses, we want to understand what that is,” she added. “There are a lot of concerns that maybe some of our activities maybe damaging or altering the sea floor. That’s a conversation we need to have so we can understand what those activities are.”
Chow says the door is not closed on the issue, and welcomes feedback. “Our primary goal is to protect Maunalua Bay and be around for everyone to enjoy,” she said.
It will likely be many months, if not years, before any decision is made.
Sen. Sam Slom, Sen. Laura Thielen, Rep. Mark Hashem, Honolulu City Councilman Trevor Ozawa and Hawaii Kai neighborhood board chair Greg Knudsen co-sponsored the event.