Questions & Answers - Proposed Rule to Establish Time-Area Closures of Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins’ Essential Habitats
Purpose and description of the proposed rulemaking action, exceptions to prohibitions, and next steps for Hawaiian spinner dolphins.
What is prohibited under the mandatory time-area closure proposed rule?
NOAA Fisheries is proposing for it to be unlawful for any person or vessel, during the hours from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. HST to enter, cause to enter, solicit to enter, or remain within any of the five areas designated as time-area closures for the protection of Hawaiian spinner dolphins in essential daytime habitats, unless the activity is noted as excepted from prohibitions.
Where is NOAA Fisheries proposing to implement mandatory time-area closures, and how did NOAA Fisheries select these bays?
NOAA Fisheries identified four bays on the Island of Hawaiʻi and one bay on the Island of Maui through a careful selection process. These areas include:
- Kealakekua Bay, Hawaiʻi Island
- Hōnaunau Bay, Hawaiʻi Island
- Kauhakō Bay, Hawaiʻi Island
- Makako Bay, Hawaiʻi Island and
- La Perouse Bay, Maui
NOAA Fisheries carefully selected bays that are essential daytime habitats for Hawaiian spinner dolphins, and that are heavily used by people and vessels for dolphin-directed activities. The five selected bays have characteristics that will allow for protection of important spinner dolphin habitat while still allowing for other ocean uses that are not dolphin-directed, see Appendix A of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for more detail.
Why is NOAA Fisheries proposing mandatory time-area closures for Hawaiian spinner dolphin protection?
Studies have shown that Hawaiian spinner dolphins off the west coast of Hawaiʻi Island, for example, face exposure to human activities as much as 80 percent of the time while in essential daytime habitats. Dolphins in other areas of the globe have shown negative health effects to less intensive exposure to human activities. NOAA Fisheries expects that swim-with and approach regulations will help reduce this threat, but recognizes that the intensity of dolphin-directed activities could remain high in certain identified spinner dolphin essential daytime habitats even with approach regulations in place. Additional information about the potential effectiveness and impacts of using time-area closures will help inform any future regulatory efforts that may be necessary and appropriate to help manage this threat.
How were the closure times of 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. HST selected?
Historically, spinner dolphins entered the bays shortly after dawn, rested and inhabited the bay for the majority of the day, and then exited the bay to feed in the late afternoon or early evening. Recent studies indicate that dolphins may rest throughout the day, but that peak hours of rest are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. NOAA Fisheries selected closure times that fully encompass early and peak resting hours to ensure that spinner dolphins can enter essential daytime habitats undeterred by dolphin-directed activities and remain undisturbed in these areas throughout peak resting times. As dolphins transition into more active behaviors after 3 p.m., people may enter these important habitats provided they remain 50 yards (45.7 meters) from Hawaiian spinner dolphins in accordance with the swim-with and approach final rule.
Why are you proposing exceptions and what are the six proposed exceptions?
We propose to limit some potential impacts to the public from the time-area closure regulations to allow for transit, public safety, government activities, and outrigger canoe uses. Exemptions to the time-area closures include:
- Vessel operations necessary to avoid an imminent and serious threat to a person or vessel
- Activities authorized through a permit or authorization issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service
- Federal, state, or local government vessels, aircraft, personnel, and assets when necessary in the course of performing official duties
- Vessels participating in organized community-based outrigger canoe races that transit straight through a time-area closure
- Vessels that transit the time-area closure for the sole purpose of ingress and egress to privately owned shoreline residential property located immediately adjacent to the time-area closure
- Outrigger canoes used for traditional subsistence fishing intended for personal, family, or community consumption or traditional use
How would closure areas affect recreational activities that are not related to spinner dolphins in these bays, such as snorkeling and surfing?
NOAA Fisheries is proposing closure areas that give room for the spinner dolphins to rest over their preferred sandy bottom habitat, while still allowing space for popular recreational activities to continue that won’t disturb the dolphins. Most shorelines are still open to the public for swimming and snorkeling, major surf breaks are still open, and some dive sites are still accessible. Between the hours of 6 a.m. and 3 p.m., activities in or on the water would need to take place outside the closure area unless noted as excepted from the prohibitions.
Would I still be able to fish in the closure areas?
People would be able to fish from shore including from the coastline. Other activities, including fishing from a vessel or underwater, would need to take place outside the delineated areas between the hours of 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. HST, unless the activity is noted as excepted from prohibitions. The proposed rule provides more details on fishing in and around the closure areas.
Are there any activities that would be allowed within the closure during closed periods?
Yes, NOAA Fisheries is proposing exceptions that would allow vessels or swimmers to access the area during closed times as necessary for activities that are emergency in nature or that are otherwise permitted by NOAA (such as marine research). Additionally, exceptions would allow for transit of vessels that are engaged in subsistence fishing, community-based outrigger canoe races, or gaining access to their private residence.
- Proposed Rule to Establish Time-Area Closures of Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins’ Essential Habitats in the Main
- Final Rule to Prohibit Swimming With and Approaching Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins
- Hawaiian Spinner Dolphin Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Regulatory Impact Review
- Spinner Dolphin
- Six Reasons Why You Should Not Swim with Wild Spinner Dolphins
- Cited References for Hawaiian Spinner Dolphin Proposed Rule