Magazine article E Magazine

Watching Whales ... and Poop

Magazine article E Magazine

Watching Whales ... and Poop

Article excerpt

From November to April, hundreds of thousands of tourists flock to whale-watching excursions in the Hawai'ian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Few of these visitors realize that their boats are dumping sewage directly into the sanctuary.

The ocean surrounding Maul provides one of the world's most important habitats for critically endangered humpback whales. Nearly two-thirds of the entire North Pacific population migrates to Hawai'i each winter for breeding, calving and nursing.

In 1997, the 1,218 square nautical miles of coastal and ocean waters around the main Hawai'ian Islands became a National Marine Sanctuary to protect these cetaceans. The federal sanctuary is one of 13 operated by the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Hawai's Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) is responsible for small boat harbors, most of which never received onshore waste pump-out facilities. DLNR engineers project February 2009 as a completion date for a permanent arterial pump-out facility at Maui's busiest harbor, Ma'alaea. For now, tour boat operators are legally allowed to discharge waste three miles from shore, and as much as 1,000 gallons goes into the water every day.

The five islands of Maui County provide a sheltered, bay-like setting ideal for commercial whale watching excursions along Maui's south and west shores. This arrangement, combined with the wind, waves and ocean currents, brings the swirling plumes released from boats' holding tanks directly into near-shore waters. …

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