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Water Quality & Habitat Degradation

The Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (HIHWNMS) encompasses over 1,370 square miles adjacent to the main Hawaiian Islands of Hawai‘i, Maui, Lana‘i, Moloka‘i, Kaho‘olawe, O‘ahu, and Kaua‘i.  Approximately half of the sanctuary protects state waters, and half federal waters.  State waters, waters less than three miles from an island shore, are classified as Class AA or Class A.  State laws protect the wilderness and natural pristine character of Class AA waters and help preserve Class A waters for recreational purposes and aesthetic enjoyment.  Federal waters have less stringent use and discharge restrictions. 

More Information
Hawai`i State Department of Health - Water Quality Management Program
United States Environmental Protection Agency - Water Quality Standards

Types of Pollution

Sanctuary waters are affected by both point source and non-point source pollution resulting from human activities on land and sea. Point source pollution stems from a single identifiable source, such as an oil spill or vessel discharge.  Oil slicks may smother floating marine life and affect subsurface organisms higher up in the food chain.  Vessel sewage discharge, allowable beyond three miles and known as black water, degrades water quality by introducing pathogens, fecal coliform bacteria, and other nutrients.  An excess of nutrients from untreated sewage can stimulate rapid plant and algal growth.  Nutrients may drift in with currents and thereby affect our marine ecosystems and reefs. 

An example of non-point source pollution is surface runoff from urban areas, construction sites, and farms.  Storm drains carry urban stormwater runoff to the nearest waterway, usually a stream or canal.  This runoff may travel from stream to canal until it reaches the ocean carrying with it oil, grease, fertilizers, pesticides, litter, and fecal bacteria. 

The Sanctuary's Approach

The sanctuary uses a variety of approaches to improve and protect the quality of its waters, which provide a critical habitat for humpback whales.

Support of pump-out facilities
In 2006, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary contributed funds to help subsidize pumpout operations at Maalaea Harbor on Maui to keep vessels from disposing their waste at sea.

Storm drain stenciling
The sanctuary has partnered with University of Hawai‘i’s Sea Grant College Program to sponsor the “Storm Drain Stenciling Project” on Maui.  To help keep Hawai‘i’s oceans clean, project volunteers stenciled a “Don’t dump, drains to ocean” message on local storm drains.

World Water Monitoring Day
The sanctuary has partnered with University of Hawai‘i’s Sea Grant College Program to sponsor World Water Monitoring Day during October. The objective of this international project is to increase awareness of the importance of protecting both freshwater and saltwater. 

Environmental education
Through school visits, hands-on activities, lectures, displays, and presentations, the sanctuary seeks to inform and educate the community on the importance of good water quality for humpback whales and Hawai‘i’s marine environment.  A better understanding of the ocean benefits us all. 


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