By VALERIE MONSON, Staff Writer
KAHULUI – The public no longer would have access to the popular – and once pristine – coves commonly called "Fishbowl" and "Aquarium," if the Ahihi-Kinau/Keoneoio Advisory Group has its say.
The panel voted 8-1 Tuesday to recommend to the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) that the two coves and the trails that lead to them be immediately closed off because of the abuse to the resources that lie in the protected Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve (NAR).
Dan Davidson, outgoing deputy director of DLNR, said the recommendation would be forwarded to the Natural Area Reserve Systems Commission for discussion and action. Final approval would have to come from the Board of Land and Natural Resources.
Members took the bold step out of a collective sense of frustration and responsibility.
"We know that human impacts have been disastrous," said Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr., who made the motion. "This committee is supposed to preserve the resources. I don't know why we're pussyfooting around when the best thing would be to close it down. . . We know the damage has been done and the only way it's going to heal is by complete closure."
Last April, all commercial activities were banned in the NAR and at adjoining Keoneoio because of the destruction created by too many people in a fragile ecosystem.
Dino Ventura, who lives along the shoreline, pointed out that fishing has been prohibited in the NAR for 30 years, yet other water-based activities such as snorkeling have been allowed to continue.
Other members of the advisory group who supported the recommendation were: Makena residents Pat Borge and Bob Davidson; Gary Hashizaki, president of the Maui Casting Club; Vanessa Medeiros of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands; Hannah Bernard of the Hawaii Wildlife Fund; and Capt. Glenn Miyahira of the Maui Police Department.
Marine biologist Ann Fielding was the lone dissenter, saying she wanted to look at the results of another "rapid assessment" of the area that will be conducted in the next few weeks to determine its condition.
The rest of the panelists felt they no longer could wait.
"It seems to me that it's been established well enough that the impact is significant and we should shut it off," said Miyahira.
The coves commonly known as Fishbowl and Aquarium can be reached only by hiking over rough lava trails that are often underestimated by tourists, who arrive ill prepared for the hot treks to the shoreline. Those who reach the ponds seem to be ignorant of the designation of the area as a natural area reserve, trampling the coral, leaving behind slicks of suntan oil and turning nearby rock formations into makeshift restrooms.
For the past two months, state officials and volunteers in the NAR have been urging visitors to snorkel at nearby Ahihi/Kanahena Cove (the southern portion of Ahihi Bay that is within the natural area reserve) and off Maonakala (also referred to as Dumps), which lies on the Keoneoio side of Kanahena. So far, their efforts have been moderately successful.
"I can say with confidence that a large percentage of people change their minds and go to Kanahena and Dumps," said Matt Ramsey, the newly appointed ranger who has been on duty for about two months. "They see us as experts and trust us when we redirect them. Many of the tourists are unprepared for the hike to Fishbowl and Aquarium."
Judy Edwards and other volunteers offer the same kind of advice for about four hours a day when they sit at an informational table at Maonakala that's been set up by the Hawaii Wildlife Fund. Edwards said nearly 75 percent of the visitors who stop by inquire about hiking to the coves, but few have water, hats or proper footwear for the rugged trip. She said most are glad for the information and are happy to snorkel at places closer by and easier to reach.
Davidson, who will leave DLNR to join a property development arm of the Campbell Estate, encouraged members to hold off on restricting access before the completion of the upcoming survey of the sites that will be compared to an identical "rapid assessment" done a year ago at the same time.
"Another one of the DLNR's missions is that public land is for the public," said Davidson. "We want to see what the change is at Fishbowl and Aquarium from December 2003 to December 2004. We want to see it.
"If we get good news about the state of the resources, then it's harder as a policy to say that people can't go there. If there's bad news, then there's a management response that needs to be taken."
Randy Awo, Maui District branch chief of the state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, said a ban could be difficult to carry out. Awo said he's noticed improvement in the area following the ban on the commercial operators, particularly the kayak companies.
"If it lessens your frustration, I really see things getting better," he said.
Davidson pointed out that since the advisory group began meeting in May, one ranger has been appointed to patrol the area (another will come on board shortly), the educational kiosk at Maonakala has been set up, and a coordinated undertaking of DLNR staff, Bernard and interested residents called "Coastwatch" is in its early stages.
Coastwatch involves volunteers in boats or on land who report violations to Awo's enforcement division.
"It's a cross between Neighborhood Watch and Citizens Patrol that focuses on resource protection," said Bill Evanson, NARS specialist.
Miyahira said with new budgets being prepared, it was the right time to ask the state Legislature to fund more positions for enforcement officers.
As part of his job, Ramsey drives a large sport utility vehicle with 'Ranger' emblazoned on all sides that has let miscreants know there's a presence in the area. Ventura and Borge recently saw a "rave" of about 100 people taking place on the beach at Keoneoio. Ramsey and other officers quickly broke it up.
But Maxwell and most of his colleagues felt more needed to be done immediately to protect the natural and cultural resources of the two coves that have become increasingly popular as the once rarely visited area of South Maui becomes common knowledge.
Valerie Monson can be reached at email@example.com.
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