What they're saying about Hawaii

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Byzantine government regulations endanger the already endangered sea turtles -- commentary

Visitors pose with sea turtles at Punaluu Black Sand Beach (c) 2012 All Hawaii News
Sea turtles -- by land or by sea?

You would think it's a distinction without a difference. Not so in the byzantine world that is our federal government.

In fact, oversight of protection of these endangered creatures is split between two federal agencies -- the National Marine Fisheries Service when the turtles are in the water, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when they're on land.

Visitor photos honu (c) 2012 All Hawaii News
In theory, the two agencies coordinate protection of six species of sea turtles found in U.S. waters and nesting on U.S. shores -- all of which are listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The species, the green, hawksbill, Kemp's ridley, leatherback, loggerhead and olive ridley, have been protected under the Endangered Species Act since the 1970s.

The agencies are charged with creating recovery plans for each species, setting goals and recovery strategies. They're also charged with enforcing laws against harassing or killing these endangered animals.

Snoozing honu (c) 2012 All Hawaii News
That coordination could be improved, according to Jan. 31 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Or, in government-speak, "To improve the effectiveness of the services’ sea turtle protection and recovery efforts, that the Secretary of Commerce should direct the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, and that the Secretary of the Interior should direct the Director of FWS, to revise the existing memorandum of understanding to clarify what specific steps the services will take to coordinate ..."
Hawksbill heads to sea, courtesy National Parks Service
Our precious turtles, known as "honu" in Hawaii, freely make use of both environments, of course. Swimmers and snorkelers easily spot green sea turtles in the ocean, and the curious creatures frequently will swim up to check out the people swimming nearby.

The Big Island's Punaluu Black Sand Beach is a favorite stop on the tour bus circuit, where hordes of tourists come to pose for photos with the massive honu sunning on the warm black sand. Some of the sightseers get too close, and arguments ensue, sometimes culminating in pushing and shoving matches.

We on Hawaii Island value our endangered species and aren't shy about making the scofflaws toe the line. In Hawaiian mythology, the green sea turtle, Kauila, could change herself into a girl who watched over the children playing at Punaluu Beach. Sea turtles also were thought to help guide early voyagers to Hawaii's shores and were an important food source in the Hawaiian Kingdom.
Honu grazing (c) 2012 All Hawaii News

The folks at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park also help coordinate protection efforts, especially of the hawksbill turtle that frequent their shores.

The National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should also, according to the GAO -- get this -- share their data. The very idea!

And who's in charge when that bugger is half in, half out of the water?

Perhaps, and you may call me a heretic, there is an easier solution. Why not simply pick one agency to oversee the turtles? Simple solution, cutting unnecessary duplication in government agencies and allowing one agency take full responsibility, thus creating more accountability. Too simple, perhaps?