HONOLULU – First off, Debbie Herrera, Volunteer and Education Coordinator for Malama na Honu, thinks we need to change the narrative.
“The vast majority of people who come to Laniakea, on the north shore of O’ahu, pay attention to the signs put up by the group’s volunteers. We try to focus on people who behave in a pono way, rather than those very few people who refuse, despite dozens of warning signs or volunteer warnings, to give green turtles on the beach or in the ocean berth, ”she said. .
Laniakea has long been a focal point for wildlife viewing … both the good and the bad. Malama na Honu has been around since 1999 and has over 100 volunteers who monitor a local turtle population that also exceeds 100 individuals. The post-pandemic tourism surge has refined attention, with social media posts showing people getting too close to or touching turtles – all for a valuable photo or video to share with friends and family. family.
Herrera believes that incidents of inappropriate behavior around Hawaii’s turtles and monk seals will decrease after the current wave of tourism ends. Still, she and her team of volunteers will be staying on the beach every day, answering questions and educating people on proper viewing etiquette for marine wildlife in Hawai’i.
After several recent reports of visitors slapping a seal or touching or harassing turtles, Governor David Ige said violators would be fully prosecuted. The key, according to Jason Redulla, head of law enforcement at DLNR’s Conservation and Resources Division (DOCARE), is to catch them red-handed.
“On the one hand, social media posts are a valuable investigative tool, but they don’t go far. Often times, it is difficult to determine the time, place and people of a shift, ”explained Redulla. After news reports highlighted two recent cases of harassment, DOCARE’s tip app and 24-hour reporting hotline exploded with reports from community members. “Many of them reported what we were already actively investigating, but it reveals how much these types of behaviors are causing outrage and concern in the community.”
Although DOCARE agents have hundreds of kilometers of beaches to patrol, as well as forests and national parks, the division has assigned agents to a more regular presence in Laniakea.
“It’s more of a deterrent than a way to catch someone doing something illegal. As a general rule, if there is an officer in uniform on the beach, people are not going to break the law in front of them. We can’t provide 24-hour coverage on a beach, and that’s why we rely on actionable information (things that can help law enforcement identify who is responsible) from people who spot illegal encounters with wild animals, ”Redulla added.
Green turtles, Hawaiian monk seals, and many other marine animals are protected by various federal and state laws. Anyone who observes what they believe to be illegal behavior is encouraged to report it immediately in one of the following ways:
• Free DLNRTip app for Apple and Android phones
• DOCARE 24-hour hotline: 643-DLNR (3567)
• NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline: 1 888 256-9840