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For Immediate Release, June 25, 2012

Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, (415) 632-5308

Feds Extend Own Deadline for Deciding on Hawaiian Monk Seal Critical Habitat

HONOLULU— The National Marine Fisheries Service announced today that it needs six more months to decide how much habitat to protect for critically endangered Hawaiian monk seals. In response to a 2008 petition from three conservation groups, the agency is considering a proposal to protect 11,000 square miles of coastal areas in the main Hawaiian Islands as critical habitat for the seals. Hawaiian monk seals are among the most endangered marine mammals in the world, with a population of approximately 1,100 animals.

“If we’re going to save Hawaiian monk seals from extinction, we have to protect the few places where they still survive. Endangered species with protected critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering than species that don’t have it,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity, which has worked for more than a decade to save monk seals from extinction.

The critical habitat final rule was due June 2, but the Fisheries Service has decided to take additional time to consider scientific information such as the monk seals’ foraging habits. The Service is looking at information brought to light during the comment period, as well as public input and additional studies it’s undertaking by tagging seals.

“If the Fisheries Service needs more time to decide whether to protect habitat, that’s time we all need to use to take care of our seals. It’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure Hawaiian monk seals don’t go extinct on our watch. The science is clear that habitat in the main islands is essential the survival of these animals,” said Sakashita.

Hawaiian monk seals have lived in the Hawaiian archipelago for millions of years, yet their future is now in jeopardy, with the population declining by about 4 percent per year. Monk seals in the main islands are giving birth to healthy pups, and this population is essential to the seals’ recovery. Critical habitat would focus management efforts and prevent federal activities that might harm monk seal habitat. 

“The main effect of critical habitat is to make sure the federal government does not undertake or permit any projects that will harm our near-shore environment that the seals depend on,” said Koalani Kaulukukui, president of KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance. 

Critical habitat for monk seals will not limit public access; people will still be able to fish, boat, and do other activities in areas that are designated as critical habitat. Federal activities in critical habitat, such as coastal construction, water pollution, and dredging needing federal permits, will need to consult with the Fisheries Service on impacts to the monk seal’s habitat. This can mean cleaner and safer beaches and waters for seals and everyone who uses Hawaii’s shoreline. 

The groups that filed the petition are the Center for Biological Diversity, KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance and Ocean Conservancy.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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