While some controversy brews over Hawaii's position regarding shark ecotourism and the legislation it generated, the state has taken a strong and positive position with respect to protecting endangered species. The state senate has proposed legislation (SB2441) that would increase the fines and potential incarceration for the intentional or knowing taking of an endangered species, moving it from a misdemeanor to a felony.
In strengthening its concern for the state's biodiversity, the bill specifically mentions the Hawaiian green sea turtle, nene goose, and Hawaiian monk seal as they are currently considered endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The bill cited a man who was convicted of shooting a Hawaiian monk seal and, under current state law, was fined only $25.00. The new legislation expands the punishment up to $5,000 (as much as $50,000 for multiple violations) and potential one-year imprisonment.
Threats to sea turtles have been mentioned often in this blog. The Hawaiian monk seal has seen a declining population for decades and its numbers could drop below 1,000 in a few years. Last year, the population - which is declining by 4% annually - saw the lowest number of recorded births during breeding season. But in 2009, the National Marine Fisheries Service, at the behest of several conservation groups, announced it would designate critical habitat on the main islands for the seal.
“The [proposed] law shows that monk seals are an important part of Hawaii’s natural heritage that must be respected,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This is one among many conservation measures needed to prevent the extinction of Hawaiian monk seals.”
So, some good news for a change. Hopefully, the state legislation (which is currently moving through committees), along with the federal efforts, will help turn the tide in favor of Hawaii's unique and wide-ranging biodiversity.
Read press release from the Center for Biological Diversity.