Recently, my wife and I watched our grandchildren play on the shoreline of Waiehu. As it is for most children, the sensation of the ocean washing over their feet and the discovery of the occasional shell brought them great joy and excitement.
Looking farther out to sea, I began to reflect on how vastly different the Hawaii of my childhood has become for our children and now their children.
Increasingly rare are streams that flow from the mountain to the sea, forming the pathway that ensures the survival of our native oopu, hihiwai and opae. Diminishing access to our shoreline, coral reefs covered by sedimentation and invasive seaweed and increased human use all combine to exert pressure on a fishery in decline, which has become part of our reality.
Yet, in spite of these changes, our grandchildren serve as a reminder that Hawaii remains a place of tremendous beauty, comprised of islands that are distinct, sacred, and worthy of our continued protection and reverence.
As the natural condition of Hawaii continues to be transformed through global and regional modernization, it is vital that communities, government and private institutions create partnerships that better protect our environmental and cultural landscape.
The Department of Land and Natural Resources, through its Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, is responsible for upholding laws that have been established to protect Hawaii's unique natural, cultural and historic resources. There are fewer than 100 DOCARE officers statewide to patrol more than 3 million acres of water, the fourth largest coastline in the nation, 1.3 million acres of state-owned lands and the 11th largest forest reserve system in the United States. Clearly, bold and innovative ideas are needed to assist the DLNR in managing and protecting these precious resources.
This spring, the DLNR/DOCARE, in partnership with the Harold K.L. Castle Foundation and Conservation International's Hawaii Fish Trust, is launching the first Community Fisheries Enforcement Unit in Hawaii. This initiative is a pilot program that focuses on the protection of our nearshore fisheries through community collaboration and the creation of enforcement models that are more focused and efficient. Three DOCARE officers, a Makai Watch coordinator, a program coordinator and a data manager will make up this specialized unit. It will begin on Maui and cover a 13-mile stretch of coastline from Hulu Island to Baldwin Beach Park and extend three miles seaward. The goal is to eventually establish units statewide.
Healthier and more productive fisheries rely on effective management and responsive attention to the needs and requests of the general public and Hawaii's fishing community. Partnerships, environmental protection, public education, voluntary compliance and cooperation, conflict resolution and grass-roots empowerment will contribute to the success of this pilot initiative.
At 1 p.m. Saturday at the Kahului boat ramp, Conservation International will be gifting a new enforcement vessel to the State of Hawaii to support this bold and visionary project. Named after the wind that travels from Wailuku to Hamakuapoko, the "Kai'aiki" will for the first time enter the waters of Maui Nui. I invite the public to join us as this new vessel is blessed and for an open house that will follow until 3 p.m. The "Kai'aiki" represents our commitment to joining with our communities to enhance, protect and perpetuate Hawaii's natural, cultural and historic resources with a profound sense of kuleana and aloha.
* Randy Awo is the administrator of the state DLNR's Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement.