Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Musings: Whales as Commodities

The moon had barely risen when Koko and I set out this morning, and its sliver of light illuminated itself, but little else. It was so dark we had to walk by instinct, but the stars were exquisite and we encountered no one and nothing, save for a black cat. The only sounds were our footsteps, crickets chirping, the screech of owls hunting and madly crowing roosters.

Talked to Don Heacock, Kauai’s state aquatic biologist last night. He had a 250-pound turtle in the back of his truck, its shell split from an encounter with a boat in Nawiliwili Harbor.

He retrieves them regularly, “but no, we don’t have any problem with boats and marine animals in this state,” he noted sarcastically. Needless to say, Don is no fan of the Superferry.

The attitude of many, including the guv, seems to be that animals are already dying, so what’s the big deal about adding Superferry carnage to the mix?

People still haven’t grasped the reality that the health and integrity of each and every species and ecosystem directly impacts the human condition, too. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re all connected.

It seems quite likely that a high-speed ferry is going to contribute to the death toll of the critters — some of them endangered — that live in the sea. Gov. Lingle’s operating conditions for the ferry do little to address that issue; indeed, she’s conceded in numerous newspaper articles that lethal encounters between boats and whales are just a way of life in Hawaii.

It’s the kind of ethnocentric attitude one would expect from a governor who views natural resources as “commodities,” and puts the interests of business first.

Yes, collisions do occur, but why worsen the situation? And why not be progressive and take steps to alleviate such encounters?

Don noted that Alaska recently passed legislation limiting the maximum speed of cruise ships to 11 knots specifically to protect whales. With the Superferry traveling at 35 knots “these animals won’t even know what hit them,” he said. "They haven't evolved to get out of the way of something moving that fast."

Lingle’s conditions require the ferry to slow only to 25 knots within the Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary — a birthing and nursing ground for these endangered animals — if it decides it needs to go into that protected area “in the interest of passenger safety or comfort."

She also says two lookouts should be posted on the boat — the same bogus strategy employed by the Navy in its sonar operations. Given that the USS Greenville, with its sophisticated radar and visual inspections, didn’t detect the Ehime Maru fishing boat until it was surfacing beneath it, I don’t have much confidence that spotters will see whales in time to avoid them. And what about turtles and endangered monk seals?

Marine animal deaths aside, the biggest problem I have with Lingle’s conditions is enforcement. Presumably, that burden will fall upon state conservation officers and the Department of Ag, both of which are already stretched to the limit.

Maui DOCARE guys pointed this out when the Senate committee chairs came to visit, and asked for more help to do their job. But their concerns were not addressed. Instead Lingle has just given them more to do, without any increase in resources to do it.

So don’t be surprised if the Superferry conditions get the same sporadic enforcement as other conservation rules within the state.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Navy vessels account for most of the reported whale collisions. In light of the Navy’s plans to ramp up its RIMPAC exercises and other training programs in the state, more such mortalities are likely.

If you’d like to learn about what the Navy has planned for Hawaii — with most of its emphasis on Kauai’s PMRF — check out my Honolulu Weekly article, which was just posted on line today.

And last but not least, Poinography! offers some interesting strategies for civil disobedience against the Superferry. As a lawyer friend once said, chaos is good; organized chaos is better.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"The connections between the military and the Superferry are troubling - and we must not lose sight of the ongoing damage being done by the military in Hawai'i, as you point out. I want to remind people that this Friday, 7-9, at Kapaa Neighborhood center, there will be a presentation by and discussion with Kyle Kajihiro and Terri Keekolani of DMZHawaii/Aloha'Aina on just these issues. I hope everyone who is interested in moving an effective startegy forward will attend and participate!"