Hawaii Hits Coral-Wreckers with Massive Fines

hawaii coral reef fines photo

Photo credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service

Hawaii is getting serious about protecting one of its most valuable assets--its gorgeous coral reefs. An integral part of its marine habitats as well as a huge draw for the boatloads of tourists who snorkel and dive amongst them, Hawaii's coral reefs are part of the state's lifeblood. But the very industry that brings visitors up close to the reefs is also threatening their very existence--every year, some are destroyed by wreckless tourism. But Hawaii's moving to end all that: it's imposing hundreds of dollars of fines on those who would wreck the coral. For example, the New York Times notes:

A Maui tour company is paying the State of Hawaii nearly $400,000 in fines for damaging more than 1,200 coral colonies when one of its boats sank at Molokini, a pristine reef and popular diving spot.
The fine was implemented two years ago, and has begun to see regular use. And not just with careless tour companies, either, though they seem to be the most common violators.
Another tour operator faces penalties for wrecking coral when it illegally dropped an anchor on a Maui reef. And the state plans to sue the Navy over coral ruined when a guided missile cruiser ran aground near Pearl Harbor in February.
While this extra protection is certainly good for Hawaii's marine habitats, it's also crucial to the state's biggest economic driver. Tourism is, after all, far and away Hawaii's biggest industry. Before the fine, Hawaii's policy was to educate those who wrecked reefs about their ecological and economic importance, while assisting the tour operators with restoration efforts. Unfortunately, this did little to quell the rising rates of reef destruction. Many have higher hopes for the more aggressive fining program--we do too.

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