In May, my Front Street neighborhood in Lahaina formed the Shark Pit Neighborhood Watch, named in honor of the neighborhood surf break. SPNW was created to address the increasing number of homeless people sleeping on the neighborhood beach, and the increasing number of thefts happening in the neighborhood.
It has been five months now since SPNW was formed and, with the help of Lahaina police, these problems have been geatly reduced and the neighborhood has become a safer place to live.
Last month, a new issue came up in the community regarding the reef being destroyed by the commercial stand-up paddlers who come onto the neighborhood reef.
There are nine surf schools that launch from 505 Front Street and paddle their SUP students down to the neighborhood reef to see "Shark Pit," a 40-foot-deep hole in the reef that is home to many endangered monk seals and turtles as well as and numerous black- and white-tip sharks. The SUP students are constantly falling off their boards, crushing the fragile coral and destroying the reef that is home to much aquatic life, including pregnant seahorses that are trying to make a comeback to the reef.
SPNW contacted Zeke Kalua at the Mayor's Office last month and asked him about banning commercial SUPs from coming onto the reef because they are destroying it. He emailed the group and stated, "The surf schools do not have a SUP permit because it is still under discussion." County spokesman Rod Antone also confirmed this by stating that the county is not issuing stand-up paddle boarding permits because there is no "mechanism" for issuing them (The Maui News, Sept. 8). Surfing and stand-up paddle boarding are considered different sporting activities, Antone said.
SPNW members consider the ocean in front of our homes to be a part of our neighborhood, like the streets and beach are, and we feel just as committed to reporting crimes seen happening to the ocean. When we heard from the Mayor's Office that no SUP permits have been issued, the community was in total shock that all these surf schools have been allowed to come onto the reef unregulated now for four years with no SUP permit and destroy the vital reef.
SPNW members met unsuccessfully with the Lahaina surf school operators to see if a compromise could be reached to have them do their SUP lessons in the commercial area from Lahaina Harbor to Lahaina Shores.
Numerous times SPNW members have contacted the following: Maui County Department of Parks and Recreation, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, Mayor Alan Arakawa, Council Members Elle Cochran and Mike White, Rep. Angus McKelvey and the Maui Police Department. Each time we were told to contact someone else in different department. One government employee said that it would be too difficult to get rules and regulations made for commercial SUPs because there are no more funds for the county Department of Parks and Recreation to write new rules and regulations for ocean activities.
SPNW members have been surprised by the resistance and negative responses we are getting, especially from government officials. I now see what Ansel Adams meant when he said, "It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment."
As we live in this new century with new problems, and where environmental crimes are becoming more common and happening more frequently to our oceans, rivers, forests, etc., we as a neighborhood watch group are adapting to these new problems in our community, and have expanded our watch scope to report crimes also happening to our natural environment as well. It is our hope that our government leaders will soon deal with this growing environmental and commercial problem before it's too late and too much of our precious reef is destroyed.
SPNW members are working on having the neighborhood reef become a marine sanctuary.
* Marishia Hannemann is a Shark Pit Neighborhood Watch block captain. She has been a resident of the Shark Pit neighborhood for 14 years.