Hawaii’s Marine Life Conservation Districts

Hawai‘i stands as a testament to the awe-inspiring wonders of marine biodiversity. With over 400 distinct species of inshore and reef fishes, its coastal waters teem with life. From the vivid wrasses, angelfishes, and butterflyfishes to formidable predators like sharks, each species contributes uniquely to the marine tapestry.

Different habitats within Hawai‘i’s coastal waters support varied marine life. Sandy bottoms are home to certain fish, while the rocky shorelines attract a different set. Tidepools, acting as nurturing grounds, house young fish across species.

However, the coral reefs are Hawai‘i’s crowning jewel. Abundant in food and protection, these reefs are a magnet for marine life. But these ecosystems are sensitive, relying on pristine water quality and a balanced environment to support the myriad of life they house.

Why We Need Marine Life Conservation Districts (MLCDs)

Over time, Hawai‘i’s burgeoning human population and increased activity have put strains on these marine ecosystems. Balancing the preservation of marine life with the interests of different user groups becomes crucial. However, prioritizing the health of the marine environment is paramount.

MLCDs come into play as protective enclaves, focusing on conserving and rejuvenating marine resources. By limiting or prohibiting fishing and other consumptive practices, these districts ensure a sanctuary for marine life to flourish. Most fishes within MLCDs have acclimated to human presence, making these zones popular for snorkeling, diving, and underwater photography.

Introduced in 1967 with Oahu’s Hanauma Bay, MLCDs have been a game-changer. The resurgence of fish populations in these areas has been notable, with Hanauma Bay achieving global recognition. Currently, Hawai‘i boasts eleven MLCDs, and there’s consideration for more.

Establishing an MLCD: A Deliberate Process

The state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) supervises the establishment of MLCDs. Suggestions for potential MLCDs can emanate from the State Legislature, general populace, or the Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR) after conducting marine ecosystem surveys.

Designation involves evaluating multiple criteria, including accessibility, marine life potential, safety, compatibility with neighboring areas, and environmental integrity. Further, well-defined boundaries and appropriate sizes are vital for successful implementation.

A meticulous investigation follows, involving fish surveys, public consultations, and assessments. Public meetings and hearings play an essential role, culminating in approvals from the Board of Land and Natural Resources and the governor.

Regulating the MLCDs

MLCDs prioritize marine protection. Typically, the extraction of both living (fishes, corals, algae) and non-living (sand, rocks) materials is either heavily restricted or prohibited, emphasizing non-consumptive activities like snorkeling.

Certain MLCDs may permit fishing, but with gear restrictions, based on public feedback. Regulatory signs at each MLCD provide clarity on boundaries and rules. For a deeper understanding, the Hawai‘i Fishing Regulations booklet or the nearest DAR office can be consulted.