Critical Habitat for Hawaiian Monk Seals
We, NOAA Fisheries, issue a final rule to revise the critical habitat for the Hawaiian monk seal (Neomonachus schauinslandi) pursuant to the Endangered Species Act. Specific areas for designation include sixteen occupied areas within the range of the species: ten areas in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) and six in the main Hawaiian Islands (MHI). These areas contain one or a combination of habitat types: Preferred pupping and nursing areas, significant haul-out areas, and/or marine foraging areas, that will support conservation for the species. Specific areas in the NWHI include all beach areas, sand spits and islets, including all beach crest vegetation to its deepest extent inland, lagoon waters, inner reef waters, and including marine habitat through the water's edge, including the seafloor and all subsurface waters and marine habitat within 10 meters (m) of the seafloor, out to the 200-m depth contour line around the following 10 areas: Kure Atoll, Midway Islands, Pearl and Hermes Reef, Lisianski Island, Laysan Island, Maro Reef, Gardner Pinnacles, French Frigate Shoals, Necker Island, and Nihoa Island. Specific areas in the MHI include marine habitat from the 200-m depth contour line, including the seafloor and all subsurface waters and marine habitat within 10 m of the seafloor, through the water's edge 5 m into the terrestrial environment from the shoreline between identified boundary points on the islands of: Kaula, Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Maui Nui (including Kahoolawe, Lanai, Maui, and Molokai), and Hawaii. In areas where critical habitat does not extend inland, the designation ends at a line that marks mean lower low water. Some terrestrial areas in existence prior to the effective date of the rule within the specific areas lack the essential features of Hawaiian monk seal critical habitat because these areas are inaccessible to seals for hauling out (such as cliffs) or lack the natural areas necessary to support monk seal conservation (such as hardened harbors, shorelines or buildings) and therefore do not meet the definition of critical habitat and are not included in the designation. In developing this final rule we considered public and peer review comments, as well as economic impacts and impacts to national security. We have excluded four areas because the national security benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of inclusion, and exclusion will not result in extinction of the species. Additionally several areas are precluded from designation under section 4(a)(3) of the ESA because they are managed under Integrated Natural Resource Management Plans that we have found provide a benefit to Hawaiian monk seals.