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NWF and Its Allies Urge Lawmakers to Restore Hawaiian Monk Seal Funding
National Wildlife Federation and Conservation Council for Hawai‘i joined forces recently with the Marine Conservation Institute and key Hawaiian community, cultural and conservation organizations to send a letter to federal lawmakers that the critically endangered ilioholoikauaua (Hawaiian monk seal) must be protected.
The letter, signed by 26 local and national organizations representing more than four million members from Hawai‘i and across the United States, encouraged the Hawai‘i congressional delegation to support federal funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to recover the seal.
Our Greatest Hope
Though its numbers total fewer than 1,100 individuals—and the species is in decline overall—the Hawaiian monk seal is the greatest hope for preserving the genus Monachus. That’s because the Caribbean monk seal is now extinct, and the Mediterranean monk seal population hangs by a thread, with less than 500 individuals remaining. Recent counts indicate that a subpopulation of Hawaiian monk seals is increasing in the main Hawaiian Islands, which is great news for the future of the species. However, this increase will likely result in the rise of human-seal interactions, such as unintentional hookings and entanglement in fishing gear and seal disturbances from residents and visitors. Therefore, additional education and outreach efforts are needed.
Plan for Recovery
NOAA’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Plan identifies funding needs totaling $36 million over five years, or approximately $7 million per year, for efforts ranging from reducing shark predation and providing emergency care for injured or malnourished seals, to removing hazardous debris and regulating human interactions with seals. But funding for the species has been severely reduced in recent years (a level as low at $2.7 million in 2011), disproportionately when compared to other marine mammals under NOAA’s jurisdiction. The letter urges the Hawai‘i delegation to provide unified support for the appropriation of $5.7 million for the Hawaiian Monk Seal Line—a step toward the $7 million recommended—and $3.3 million for NOAA’s Species Recovery Grants to States Program in 2014. These federal government grants help states to implement priority recovery actions for marine species listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Strengthening the National Voice
NWF affiliates in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, along with the National Aquarium (NWF’s Maryland affiliate), were among the groups that signed onto the letter. The National Aquarium is a strong advocate for ocean health, marine mammals and other sea life. And the Virgin Islands Conservation Society and Sociedad Ornitológica Puertorriqueña Inc. know all too well what’s at stake, having lost their own Caribbean monk seal when it was officially declared extinct in 2008.
To my way of thinking, it is, as our Native Hawaiian colleagues would say, the kuleana, or responsibility, of all Americans to make sure this rare tropical seal, the most endangered marine mammal found exclusively in U.S. waters, is protected and recovered for future generations and for the health of the marine ecosystem surrounding the greater Hawaiian Islands.