Coast Guard and NOAA Office of Law Enforcement crews aboard a Coast Guard Cutter William Hart (WPC 1134) small boat contact a boater during a patrol off Hawaii Island in June 18, 2020. (U.S. Coast Guard video by USCGC William Hart)

Federal, State Agencies Partner to Protect Marine Life Around Hawaii Island

Coast Guard and NOAA Office of Law Enforcement crews conducted joint patrols under Operation Nemo in the vicinity of Hawaii Island June 16 to 26.

During the 10-day enforcement operation, crews visited multiple locations, conducted 18 patrols by air, sea, and on land, contacted more than a dozen boaters, issued six safety violations with 21 incident reports, and three NOAA warnings.

“We conducted these operations in response to complaints of recent maritime violations in the vicinity of the Big Island and to increase the local enforcement presence,” said Chief Warrant Officer Robert Holt of Coast Guard Sector Honolulu. “These joint operations were designed to enforce all applicable laws and regulations under several federal acts. Boaters are often unaware of the guidelines to give marine life a wide berth.”

Specifically, NOAA, and the Coast Guard, with support from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Hawaii Police Department, and the National Park Service used patrols and one-on-one encounters to conduct enforcement and public education of the rules under the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, and Magnuson Stevens Act.

“Due to lack of federal resources on the island, coupled with the number of complaints and shared information of violations from the Hawaii Division of Conservation and Resource Enforcement, Hawaii Police Department, and National Park Service, the need for a combined joint air, water, and land patrols were long overdue,” said Lt. Brian Christy, a supervisory enforcement officer with NOAA OLE Pacific Islands Division. “Coast Guard Sector Honolulu officials agreed to have the William Hart on station to join in the joint water operations targeting the illegal take of marine fishes within the Hawaii State and National Park Service designated no-take areas. The on-water patrols also focus on presence to deter boaters from interfering with the resting Spinner Dolphins in their bay rest areas. The land patrols consisted of area familiarization and patrol of nesting areas throughout the island with our federal, state, and local partners.”

Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point HC-130 Hercules crews delivered NOAA vehicles, a Coast Guard Sector Honolulu boarding team, NOAA OLE officer, and equipment to Hawaii Island to conduct operations onshore along the west side of the island and Hilo.

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter William Hart (WPC 1134) managed the effort on the water along the south shore and to the east with NOAA OLE officers. These operations focused on preventing illegal activity in State, and National Park Service areas closed to fishing and educating those onshore to give monk seals and turtles proper space. The on-water actions also served to educate and deter boaters from interfering with Spinner Dolphins in protected areas.

Hawaii is host to many marine life species, from endemic reef fish to sharks, rays, and humpback whales. Hawaii Island is a popular destination to see Manta rays. The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world, with only an estimated 1,100 animals remaining, and live only in the Hawaiian Islands. Most of their population resides in the uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, with about 15 percent in the Main Hawaiian Islands.

The Big Island, officially named Hawaii, is the largest in the Hawaiian archipelago in the Central Pacific, representing more than half its landmass. It is home to nearly 200,000 people with diverse terrain, colored-sand beaches, and lush rainforest. Agriculture and science are prominent on the island.

It’s also the location of two famous active volcanoes within Volcanoes National Park — Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Kilauea gained national attention in 2018 for devastating lava floes. There are many nationally protected areas to preserve the unique flora and fauna, including several national parks.

“We appreciate the hard work of everyone involved in these operations. All our local agency representatives respect the unique and vital nature of the Big Island environment. We came together to protect it and intend to continue regular patrols and surge operations in the area,” said Holt.

Read more at USCG

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