New evidence suggests that some marine predators are being displaced by high human use at the Molokini Marine Life Conservation District (MLCD), which in 2018 attracted more than 360,000 snorkelers and divers. At an information and scoping meeting scheduled for Thursday, March 21, 2019 staff from the DLNR, Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR), will present details of recent scientific studies and learn about management concerns for Molokini Crater. The meeting will be held from 5:30 pm – 8:00 pm at the Kihei Community Center (303 E. Lipoa Street, Kihei, Maui). At the meeting, interested people can provide input to help inform the development of updated administrative rules and other possible management efforts.
The Molokini MLCD was first established in 1977 as a highly unique offshore islet with a very healthy and intact coral reef ecosystem. The rules that established this MLCD have not been seriously reviewed and adjusted for nearly 25 years. In 1995 rules were last amended to create a limited commercial permit system designed to prevent future uncontrolled growth by commercial tour companies. DLNR/DAR is now looking to update these rules to address current crowding concerns, ensure fair and equitable use by all boaters and to amend other rules as necessary.
In 2010 a social carrying-capacity study found that over 60% of all Molokini visitors felt crowded when too many boats were in the crater. At that time, visitor numbers were around 300,000 per year, but now has grown to 360,000 visitors per year. A reef predator movement study in 2016 found that 50% of omilu (a key nearshore reef predator) were displaced outside of the shallow crater into deeper water when the number of boats exceeded 12. Although the coral reef habitat appears to remain healthy, the displacement of key reef predators is an indication that high human use is affecting this fully protected reserve. DAR is currently working with permitted Molokini commercial operators to explore how to best address these concerns while minimizing impacts to their tour operations.