Public Access Catalog Study
June 2020 to Dec 2022
During the study dates of June 2020 to December 2022, over 500 images were submitted and six new individual sharks were identified. Such an amazing response. I am writing the research papers now and aim to have them published by the end of the year.
The reasons for ending the study are due to different factors but all pertain solely to maintaining the environmental integrity of the research sites, the conservation of the animals, and the safety of the public. At current, the catalog’s pursuit to educate responsible practices has also shown the potential in creating adverse actions contradictory to its intent. Below are some of the reasons for this decision.
-First, the Hawaii State Legislature is acknowledging from its reopening after the covid shutdown that destination management is necessary instead of destination marketing/advertising. I subscribe to this rationale and plan to be involved in some capacity. Currently, they are discussing these bills:
SB1522 SD1: Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority; Board of Directors; etc.
Description: Establishes an Office of Tourism and Destination Management within the Department of Business, Economic Development, and Tourism that encompasses regenerative tourism and best practice destination management. Transfers the functions, duties, appropriations, and positions of the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority to the Office of Tourism and Destination Management. Requires the Office of Tourism and Destination Management to implement certain county destination management action plans. Dissolves the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority and the Board of Directors for the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority. Appropriates funds.
The purpose of this Act is to:
(1) Establish an office of tourism and destination management within the department of business, economic development, and tourism that encompasses regenerative tourism and best practice destination management;
(2) Transfer the functions, duties, appropriations, and positions of the Hawaii tourism authority to the office of tourism and destination management;
(3) Require the office of tourism and destination management to implement certain county destination management action plans;
(4) Dissolve the Hawaii tourism authority; and
(5) Appropriate funds.
SB2190: Tourism Destination Congestion Management Task Force: Appropriation ($)
Description: Establishes the Tourism Destination Congestion Management Task Force to estimate the market price for entrance to popular public tourist sites, explore innovative methods to disincentivize congestion at popular public tourist sites, investigate feasible ways in which new technologies can be implemented to assist in destination management, evaluate methods in which collected revenues can be directed back into the maintenance of popular public tourist sites or surrounding communities, and determine the contribution residents make to tourist congestion.
-Second, a recently published (Jan 2023) and peer-reviewed study by ASU and Princeton University on Hawaii’s coral reefs showed a correlation between coral reef degradation and social media posts. Since the study specifically uses reefs in Hawaii, it is not a model and was performed by a team with high scientific integrity.
I am giving extra weight to the merit of this study and feel the catalog will align with the social advertising of the research site. Social advertising has been proven to be effective in conjuring the public to create “instagram sites” or “YOLO experiences” that are now overrun with image seekers and selfie pursuers. Given this direct study and tiger shark diving becoming a bucket list tourist activity, it would be irresponsible of the institute to continue public access to the catalog.
Title: Coral Reefs and Coastal Tourism in Hawaii
Abstract: Coral reefs are popular for their vibrant biodiversity. By combining web-scraped Instagram data from tourists and high-resolution live coral cover maps in Hawaii, we find that, regionally, coral reefs both attract and suffer from coastal tourism. Higher live coral cover attracts reef visitors, but that visitation contributes to subsequent reef degradation. Such feedback loops threaten the highest-quality reefs, highlighting both their economic value and the need for effective conservation management.
Lin, B., Zeng, Y., Asner, G.P. et al. Coral reefs and coastal tourism in Hawaii. Nat Sustain (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-022-01021-4https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-022-01021-4https://news.asu.edu/20230109-new-study-reveals-tourists-love-hawaiian-coral-reefs-just-little-too-much
-Third, a carrying capacity report and vetted information from two bays in the state, Hanauma Bay on Oahu and Kahalu’u Beach Park on Big Island, show definitive reef degradation due to heavy anthropogenic use. To us marine biologists, these bays are known as “sacrificial sites” because of their extreme beauty and easy access. The main research site easily falls into this category and there is a trend here that mimics these other sites of years past. Hanauma Bay and Kahalu’u Bay are excellent models to reference in this foreseeable surge. The catalog would advertise the site’s use and lead to a negatively impactful flux.
The reports paint an alarming scene of reef loss solely from anthropogenic overuse. Below are some highlights: the 2021 visitor number for Kahalu’u Bay was the most alarming.
“In response to the closure of the HBNP to visitors [due to covid lockdown], the Bay experienced increased density and biomass of fishes…
Following the reopening of the Bay at 25% visitor capacity, many species of fish, decreased in density…by 28.2%. Of the top overall fish species contributing to density, seven of the thirteen experienced an increased density during the closure to the public, followed by decreased density after the Bay was reopened.” p.95
Kahalu’u Beach Park: over 400K/year visited the park in 2021 (~1100 visitors/day)
SB3380: County of Hawaiʻi; Beach Restoration; Kahaluu Beach Park; Appropriation ($)
Description: Appropriates funds for a grant-in-aid to the county of Hawaiʻi to hire an engineering firm to study, plan, assist, and conduct preliminary design and concept work for a two-phase project to restore the Kahaluu Beach Park in the county of Hawaiʻi. Conditions the appropriation on the county of Hawaiʻi contribution of matching funds.
“The legislature further finds that Kahaluu beach park is the top visited beach park in the county of Hawaii, recording over four hundred thousand visitors annually.” (p.1)
Cindi Punihaole, The Kohala Center, “...awaiting carrying capacity report is currently in progress,” and “...over 400,000 people visited Kahalu’u Beach Park in 2021.”
-Fourth, as the previous Executive Director of the Ocean Artists Society, and more than a twenty-year career as a scientific diver, I am professionally trained and versed in underwater art and how it pertains to conservation efforts. I have years of experience in assessing and determining how underwater images and artworks serve the conservation of the animal and environmental protections of the locale. I performed this work with proven global marine conservationists who progress our industry and are celebrated. This led to media consulting of scuba marketing with the tourism ministries of both Thailand and the Philippines on how they can advertise their locales for sustainable tourism. I give talks at international dive expos about marine art and conservation. I attend international conferences with my own art to sway delegates to vote for the trade protection of sharks.
It is my professional experience that in advertising the catalog, I am also currently advertising unsustainable use of the main research site. I have seen this catalog referenced incorrectly and improperly utilized leading to irresponsible dive practices in efforts to capture shark images. Worse is that these image postings do not deliver purpose to the conservation of the animal but serve only for individuals to fulfill their dopamine rush for "likes" on social media posts. I have come across too many posts where consideration is not given to the impact of the animal or site. This is a professional assessment.
These main factors, and some minor ones, all attribute to the decision that it is best for the benefit of the animals and environmental conditions of the sites to arrest public access to the catalog. The potential for irresponsibility is evident and continuance of the catalog with this knowledge would be remiss in my duties with the institute and shark conservation.
The catalog may return to public access based on the Hawaii State Legislature’s future tourism management plans.
Hawaii Regional Director
Shark Research Institute