Critically Endangered Seals Get a Boost in Hawaii

Hawaii’s monk seals have become one of the most endangered marine mammals on the planet, but this week they got a boost with an announcement from the government that their protected habitat will be exponentially expanded in an effort to help them recover.

Monk seals were first listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1976, but despite protection their numbers have continued to decline since the 1950s. Today, there are only an estimated 1,100 left in the wild whose numbers are believed to be dropping at a rate of 3 percent every year.

They face the many of the usual threats marine life including limited food, entanglement, pollution, disease and development, which could be made worse as climate change continues to alter their environment and beaches they rely on to give birth.

In 2008, the Center for Biological Diversity, KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance and the Ocean Conservancy petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to expand their critical habitat under the ESA to include areas of undeveloped coasts of the main Hawaiian Islands, including Oahu and Kauai, where it’s believed their best chances of survival are.

The Center for Biological Diversity notes that federal data shows that endangered species with critical habitat protections are twice as likely to recover as those without. With so few left, efforts to protect them need to be undertaken before it’s too late.

This week their efforts paid off with an announcement from the NMFS that it will be protecting an additional 7,000 square miles for these seals as critical habitat.

The designation won’t stop anyone from enjoying beaches, or engaging in other activities like recreational or subsistence fishing, but it will help put limits on activities that could that could alter, damage or destroy their homes.

Several conservation organizations issued a joint statement applauding the move and hope additional measures will help keep these seals from disappearing forever.

“Hawaiian monk seals have been in serious trouble for a long time, and these new habitat protections will give them a desperately needed chance at survival,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Monk seals are nearly extinct, so we need to make sure our coasts offer them a safe haven.”

In a separate action to help them recover, the NMFS also just released its latest management plan, which aims to more than double the population on the main islands to at least 500 by protecting their habitat, reducing the threat of diseases and conflicts with fisheries and by engaging the public through conservation education and outreach, among other actions.

“Preventing the monk seal from going extinct is not rocket science; we can do this. The seals in the main Hawaiian Islands need critical habitat, NOAA has to be serious about implementing its own recovery plan, and we need to work with the communities and fishers in Hawaii to listen to their concerns and reduce any conflicts with the seals. If we lose the battle to save the Hawaiian monk seal, we’ll have only ourselves to blame,” said Mike Gravitz, director of policy for Marine Conservation Institute and leader of its monk seal program.

The management plan is now open for public comment until September 9, 2015. To submit one in support of increasing protection for these imperiled seals, send it to monkseal@noaa.gov.

Photo credit: James Abbott

83 comments

Lorraine Andersen
Lorraine A7 months ago

Always happy to hear someone is willing to do something to help animals! Lets hope these seals can make a come back. Thanks for sharing.

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Glennis W
Glennis W7 months ago

Greatest news of the week Thank you for caring and shring

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Glennis W
Glennis W7 months ago

This is so wonderful Thank you for caring and shring

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Glennis W
Glennis W7 months ago

Great news Thank you for caring and shring

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Glennis W
Glennis W7 months ago

Awesome Thank you for caring and shring

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Patricia Harris
John Taylor3 years ago

Keep it up, and you'll be remembered for your good deeds!!

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mari s.
Mari S3 years ago

Thank you so much for caring about our monk seals.

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H3 years ago

Also good news for the Hawaiian seals is the fact that TMMC has set up a sister style seal rescue in Hawaii. So maybe more of the sick or injured seals can get help along with the stronger protections.

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Muriel Servaege
Muriel S3 years ago

Thank you for the good news.

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