- Special Projects
A local nonprofit launched an effort Wednesday to pull together more than two dozen stakeholders to create a community-driven, science-based plan to restore Maunalua Bay on the east side of Oahu.
Malama Maunalua, headed by marine conservation expert Frazer McGilvray, has been working to heal the bay for the past decade. The planning process, which is expected to take two years, is called Imua Maunalua.
“It’s the best chance that the bay has,” McGilvray told the Civil Beat Editorial Board on Tuesday.
McGilvray, the former administrator of the DLNR’s Division of Aquatic Resources, said this approach has not been done before in Hawaii. But he’s seen it work first-hand in places ranging from California to Indonesia.
The bay, which covers 6.5 miles of coastal waters from Black Point to Portlock Point, has ranked among the least healthy in the state for the past several years. Scientists, environmentalists and a range of ocean users say it’s overfished and is being destroyed by sediment runoff and other human-caused factors.
Some 60,000 residents live in the area that borders the bay. Malama Maunalua wants to get their input on the future of the bay along with numerous other sectors of society that use the resource, including commercial tour operators, recreational fishermen, scuba divers, surfers, paddlers and boaters.
The nonprofit is hiring an impartial facilitator to hold regular planning meetings and public listening sessions, McGilvray said.
Within the next two years, Malama Maunalua expects the diverse group to produce a comprehensive marine plan for the bay. At that point, depending on what the plan says, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources or perhaps county or federal government agencies may be approached to consider changing laws or rules to implement certain provisions.
“Right now, it’s a blank paper,” McGilvray said. “We have no idea what’s going to come out of it on the other side. What we do know is whatever plan the community comes up with has to heal the bay.”
Malama Maunalua has several big groups involved in Imua Maunalua, including the Polynesian Voyaging Society, the Hawaii Kai Chamber of Commerce, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International and Castle Foundation, plus support from DLNR and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.
The plan the group wants to develop is separate from the management plan that NOAA is working on.
The bay has been part of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary since 1997. Now NOAA wants to work with the state to add a new layer of protection by making the degraded bay a special sanctuary management area.
Under the proposal, the sanctuary would change from protecting just humpback whales to entire marine ecosystems.
NOAA is in the process of reviewing public comments on the draft management plan and environmental review of the proposal. That’s expected to take the better part of a year, at which point a revised plan will be put forward.
McGilvray said one benefit of Imua Maunalua’s planning process is the group is not restricted by jurisdictional issues or other problems that NOAA or the DLNR have to navigate.
“We’re bound by whatever the community wants to do,” he said.
McGilvray and others orchestrating Imua Maunalua, including Malama Maunalua’s board president, Jennifer Taylor, don’t expect the planning process to be easy.
“This is clearly the hardest thing that our community’s tackled,” Taylor said, noting the outrage expressed at a town hall meeting in July about NOAA’s plan for the bay and the possibility of additional restrictions on its use.
There will be challenges in building consensus and disputes over the science, she said.
“We are optimistic but we aren’t naive,” Taylor said. “It’s not going to be a smooth sail across the waters but we have to get started.”
The Project Advisory Council includes:
Suzanne Case, DLNR chair, and Malia Chow, superintendent of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, will serve as ex-officio members of the council.