By Pugh, Nicole
E Magazine , Vol. 17, No. 5
0n the Big Island of Hawaii, the black sand beach at Punalu'u in the rural district of Kau is renowned as much for its dramatic beauty as it is for the giant sea turtles that return each year to nest there. But Sea Mountain Five LLC, a collaboration of California and Big Island investors, recently proposed building a 2,000-unit resort complex on the beach, and environmentalists fear this could spell trouble for critically endangered hawksbill sea turtles.
Larry Katahira, natural resources project manager at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and director of the Hawksbill Recovery Project, is among those concerned about the proposal. "Because the turtles are so rare," explains Katahira, "they come up to nest and people don't know that they are there." National Park crews have tagged only 70 nesting female hawksbills on the Big Island since 1991.
County Councilman Bob Jacobson, who represents the district of Kau, is also concerned about development at Punalu'u. "The beach is not a resource that is to be exploited," he explains. "It's for everybody to enjoy." He added that his stance on the proposed project will be determined by the behavior of the developers.
George Atta of Group 70, the design firm employed by Sea Mountain, has assured local residents that Punalu'u's unique ecosystem will be protected and that an environmental impact statement is forthcoming. Current plans for Sea Mountain, however, include estate dwellings along the coastline and a golf course extension with holes directly on the beach. These projects could spell disaster for nesting hawksbills and their hatchlings, warn environmentalists. …