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Ambassador of Aloha- Hawaiian monk seal
With a population in decline for more than 20 years, currently about 1,100, the Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schaunislandi) is the most endangered seal in the United States. NOAA Fisheries is building on more than 30 years of research and management experience with the seals to fulfill our mandate to protect and recover their population under the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act. We are working across the Hawaiian archipelago to address the population decline with new research and enhancement actions designed to implement the revised Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Plan (2007).
Reasons for action
More than one-fifth of the Hawaiian monk seals in the world are alive today because of direct interventions by the NOAA Fisheries Recovery Program. Because of these efforts, the population is 30% larger than if we had not acted, offering hope for future recovery and assurance our actions are making a difference.
Tourism is Hawaii's #1 industry in terms of economic value and the Hawaii Tourism Authority strives to brand Hawaii as a destination where visitors can have a unique experience, through Hawaiian culture, history, landscape, and flora and fauna.
Wildlife viewing opportunities are worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Hawaii's $10-billion-a-year tourism industry. And tourists are willing to pay more to protect Hawaii's environment: 81% expressed willingness to add $1 per day to their room rate to preserve natural areas, coastline, and Hawaiian cultural sites. Over 90% of visitors to Hawaii indicated that the preservation of natural areas would be an important factor in their decision to return to the islands.
A unique ambassador
Hawaiian monk seals, like many of Hawaii's species, are found only in the Hawaii Islands, and are part of the unique ecosystem that is particularly valuable to Hawaii's local economy. As a visible and charismatic species, Hawaiian monk seals feature prominently in advertising and promotion of Hawaii's distinctive visitor experience.
Native threatened and endangered species are also important to Hawaii's residents. In a survey conducted along Hawaii's coastlines, 90% of people disagreed with the statement that "protection of Hawaiian monk seals is not important because there are many types of seals throughout the world" (Sustainable Resources Group International 2011).
However, monk seals do sometimes come into conflict with humans on the beach and in the ocean. NOAA Fisheries is continuously working on cutting-edge science to understand monk seal biology and behavior. In a partnership with National Geographic, we are using seal-mounted "crittercams" to learn more about monk seal foraging behavior, and develop solutions to manage and mitigate interactions with humans. When funding has allowed, NOAA Fisheries supports grants to local organizations for community engagement programs. These programs improve communication between the government and the public, and increase education about monk seals, marine conservation, and ocean literacy.
Overall, when actions are taken to protect endangered native species, humans, as well as native wildlife, benefit. Protection and promotion of a healthy and clean marine ecosystem will help sustain Hawaiian monk seals and benefit humans who rely on the ocean for livelihoods and recreation. With continued dedication to Hawaiian monk seal recovery, we can achieve even greater gains for the species, Hawaii's natural resources, and Hawaiians.
Updated: November 21, 2013