LAHAINA - With a network of residents in place on land to watch for criminal activity in the area, the Shark Pit Neighborhood Watch (SPNW) now wants to protect Na Papalimu O Pi'ilani, the reef fronting the south Front Street area.
SPNW Coordinator Marishia Hannemann, a regular at the "Shark Pit" surf break, wants the county to step in and regulate "the hoardes of commercial stand up paddlers that constantly come into our neighborhood reef."
"Last month, some neighbors were discussing how our reef is being destroyed right before our eyes," said Hannemann.
Members of the Shark Pit Neighborhood Watch recently met with representatives from Lahaina surf schools.
"There are nine surf schools that launch from 505 Front Street and paddle their SUP students all the way down into our neighborhood reef to see 'Shark Pit,' a 40-foot-deep puka in the reef that is home to many endangered monk seals and turtles and numerous black and white tip sharks.
"The SUP students are constantly falling off their boards and crushing the fragile coral, and destroying the reef that is home to much aquatic life, including pregnant sea horses that are trying to make a comeback to our reef," she continued.
"We see how the surf schools are damaging the reef and overcrowding the Breakwall surf break by Lahaina Harbor down the beach from Shark Pit, and we don't want that happening to our neighborhood reef."
Through CORA permits, surfing lessons may be conducted in Ukumehame and Kamehameha Iki parks in West Maui.
Parks Department Deputy Director Patrick Matsui stated that stand up paddle boarding is not permitted by CORA and is considered a different activity from surfing.
The permit only covers activity in the park or access through the county facility, however.
Once instructors and students are on the sand or in the ocean, they are under the state's jurisdiction.
State Department of Land & Natural Resources officials have told the SPNW that the department focuses on marine law violations, prioritizing them according to the severity of infractions. The state would like the county to address commercial activity issues through CORA.
Matsui said permit holders must abide by CORA's provisions. He added that with surfing, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking and possibly canoe rides now in the commercial realm, the department is considering revising the CORA rules.
Kalua added that SPNW members are welcome to document problems for the county.
Hannemann said that when the Shark Pit Neighborhood Watch began bringing attention to the SUP permit issue, people from Kapalua to Hookipa complained of "too many commercial and private SUP companies overcrowding these areas with all their SUP students in the water and complaining about the SUPs falling on the reef and destroying it, too."
SPNW recommends that the county Parks Department amend CORA to include rules and regulations for SUP lessons and tours, require all commercial and private companies that offer surfing and SUP lessons to have permits, and require all commercial and private surf instructors to become CORA-certified.
"This will generate more money for the county by having private surf companies be required to have a permit, too," she said.
"CORA offers free classes to educate people about how fragile and vital our coral reefs are and also to teach people how to spot diseases on the reef or unusual things happening to the reef, so they can report their findings back to CORA.
"So if the surf instructors had this training and knowledge about the reef, they could educate their students better... become watchers of the reef and work with CORA by reporting their findings to them about the reef," Hannemann concluded.