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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, November 29, 2001

Kaua'i seeks change in handling of monk seals

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser KauaÎi Bureau

PO'IPU, Kaua'i — Visitor industry officials and volunteer naturalists are asking the National Marine Fisheries Service to establish protocol for handling Hawaiian monk seal births on popular beaches.

Seal pups have been born in each of the past two years on the Po'ipu Beach Park's main strand, prompting fisheries officials to place much of the beach off limits during the middle of the summer visitor season.

Volunteers joined biologists each season in monitoring the seal pup's progress and ensuring that it and the mother were not harassed.

One visitor was bitten in the water near the pupping beach this year. Federal officials responded by, at certain times, closing the entire crescent of sand fronting the main beach park, as well as the longer bay fronting the Waiohai Hotel property.

Both the volunteer Kaua'i Monk Seal Watch Program and the Po'ipu Beach Resort Association have written letters to the fisheries service calling for action.

"Widespread dissatisfaction and considerable anger lingered in the wake of our federal government's handling of the 2001 experience," wrote Tim Robinson, of the Kaua'i Monk Seal Watch Program.

Problems included both the inconvenience to beachgoers and unclear areas of responsibility in managing the seal situation, wrote Jerry Gibson, president of the Po'ipu Beach Resort Association.

"The decision to close two beaches instead of one caused much dissention and disappointment in our community, in particular among our visitors," Gibson wrote.

He asked the National Marine Fisheries Service to allow some flexibility in decision-making, permitting community groups to have a role in determining how to handle beach closings.

"While we recognize the extreme importance for protection of the mother seal and her pup, we believe that the situation could have been far better handled," Gibson wrote.