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Federal officials expand critical monk seal habitat on parts of Hawaii Islands

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HONOLULU — Endangered monk seals are getting more protection on parts of Hawaii's main islands.

There are about 1,100 monk seals believed to be alive today, with that number dwindling by 4 percent annually, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported (http://bit.ly/1MCZDFN).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Tuesday that it was expanding critical habitat for the species to require a review from the National Marine Fisheries Service to minimize potential harm from activity that is federally permitted or funded.

Regional administrator Michael Tosatto says the agency's rule probably won't prevent major development or infrastructure, and will not interfere with swimming, surfing and fishing.

"Critical habitat is always not well understood," said Tosatto. "It always appears to be invasive. It sounds like we are creating kapu areas, but we really are not."

DLNR Chairwoman Suzanne Case said in a statement that the state has a responsibility to protect its cultural and natural heritage.

"A part of that is making sure that our very special, unique, native Hawaiian monk seals have safe places to thrive," she said. "It is a shared responsibility among the people, the state and the federal government."

The plan extends critical habitat areas in the northwest Hawaii Islands, and adds protections to parts of Oahu, limited areas of Molokai and stretches of shoreline on Maui and Kauai.


Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, http://www.staradvertiser.com

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