Commentary by Syd Singer:
A public meeting was scheduled by Mayor Kenoi to discuss the controversial mangrove eradication and poisoning project that has now left over 30 acres of mangroves dead and rotting along the Puna coastline. The meeting, scheduled for July 31 at the Pahoa Community Center, was the first chance given to the public to comment on and question the project.
But the meeting never happened. Malama o Puna, the organization spearheading the poisoning, backed out at the last minute, causing the County to cancel the meeting, according to Hunter Bishop, spokesperson for Mayor Kenoi.
The public is left with an ugly, poisoned shoreline and still without any voice on the issue.
The 30 acres of mangroves now stand dead and defoliated along the sensitive Big Island coastline, left to rot over the years and blighting what had been beautiful, treasured areas. Wai Opae (which is the popular snorkeling area in Kapoho), Pohoiki (also called Isaac Hale Beach Park), Paki Bay, and Onekahakaha Beach Park in Hilo have all been poisoned.
There was no public hearing or public comment period allowed for this mangrove eradication project, which was done with the cooperation of the DLNR, County of Hawaii, and Big Island Invasive Species Committee. There was no environmental assessment or environmental impact statement prepared. For most residents who frequent these areas, awareness of the project began when they noticed the mangroves were dying and brown scum was floating on the water. Heaps of dead leaves from the defoliated trees still line the high tide mark.
A public protest against the mangrove poisoning was held in January, 2010, and the controversy was reported in the media. But Malama o Puna refused to stop the poisoning.
A citizen lawsuit was filed in February to get an injunction to stop the poisoning until an environmental assessment was done. Despite requests that they stop their work, Malama o Puna continued with their poisoning, killing 7 acres of mangroves at Pohoiki and 3-4 acres of mangroves at Onekahakaha Beach Park in Hilo while the lawsuit proceeded.
A ruling has just been made on the lawsuit, which continues in Third Circuit Court in Hilo. The Court has ruled that it is too late to sue Malama o Puna for not doing an environmental assessment. This does not mean Malama o Puna did not have to do an environmental assessment. It just means that it was too late to have the issue considered by the Court.
Attorneys for defendants Malama o Puna, DLNR, and County of Hawaii tried to get the case dismissed, claiming that private citizens cannot sue for violations of the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, or Hawaii Pesticide law. But the Court reaffirmed that the public has a right to a clean and healthy environment, as provided in the Hawaii Constitution Article Xl, Section 9, and that all citizens have a right to sue to protect those environmental rights.
The lawsuit now will focus on whether Malama o Puna violated clean water regulations and threatened endangered species that are known to use the poisoned areas. No further hearings are scheduled at this time.
Ironically, mangroves may be the best species for Hawaii’s subsiding coastline, especially given the climate change predictions coming from the Hawaii government and environmental groups that the oceans are rising. Mangroves protect the shoreline from erosion, storm surge, and tsunamis. In fact, mangroves have been shown to save lives.
Unfortunately, while recognizing climate change is the environmental issue of our time, some environmental groups and government agencies have not yet realized the implications climate change has for “invasive” species control. Climate change is an inconvenient truth for those who want to save native species that thrived in the past but which may not survive in today’s and tomorrow’s altered environment. Introduced species which grow well here may belong to the Hawaii of the future. Today’s “invasive” species may become tomorrow’s “invaluable” species.
This especially applies to mangroves, considered by the Nature Conservancy in its Summer, 2010 magazine as one of the most valuable and beneficial species in the world. Mangroves may prove critical to shoreline protection in Hawaii as the oceans rise and the land sinks.
While their presence in Hawaii is controversial, as is the use of powerful poisons to kill the mangroves and leave them rotting along the shoreline, the public will not have an opportunity to comment on this eradication. And while the County meeting was too little, too late, it was at least an attempt to include the public. But now, even that attempt has been poisoned.
For more information, see www.mangrovelawsuit.com.
Sydney Ross Singer
P.O. Box 1880, Pahoa, Hawai 96778