Monument Board Bars Coral Expert From NWHI Research Cruise

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Posted 08/01/2011

In our August “Board Talk” column, we reported that coral disease expert Greta Aeby was finally, after years of exile, going to resume her research in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI).

But just before the research vessel Hi`ialakai was to leave for the NWHI (and just as Environment Hawai`i went to press), the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument Management Board (MMB) decided that she wouldn’t be on it.

On July 8, the Land Board gave its approval for a permit allowing Aeby to conduct coral and fish disease research in state waters within the monument. At the time, the MMB, which has the final say on permits, had indicated that it generally supported Aeby’s work, but was still trying to determine whether any policy or legal issues surrounding a 2006 permit violation would prevent the MMB from approving her permit application.

Last year, the MMB supported a similar application by Aeby on the conditions that she not SCUBA dive or handle or process samples and that monument staff be on board to oversee her permit activities. The state Department of Land and Natural Resources, however, recommended denial and Aeby eventually withdrew her application.

Following the Land Board’s approval this year, the MMB decided on July 20 to grant Aeby a monument permit. In a statement released July 29, the MMB wrote, “Determining the causes of coral disease and what actions can potentially be taken to reduce or prevent coral disease are among the Monument’s highest research priorities. The remote coral reef ecosystems of the NWHI support an incredible variety of marine life and are some of the most pristine reefs on the planet.”

However, the MMB, exercising its “managerial discretion,” decided that Aeby herself would not be allowed to join the research cruise. Instead, her research would be carried out by three of her collaborating scientists at the Hawai`i institute of Marine Biology during the Hi`ialakai’s cruise, the MMB stated. (The cruise began July 23 and is scheduled to end August 21.)

“[B]ased on policy concerns and operational considerations, [the MMB] decided that Dr. Aeby would not participate in the actual research cruise,” the board wrote.

The statement was not clear on whether the prohibition of Aeby was part of the final permit or was decided sometime afterward.

Monument deputy superintendent David Swatland stated in an email that he could not clarify the timing issue or describe the “policy concerns and operational considerations” that led to the MMB’s decision until the MMB had a chance to discuss the matters.

Aeby could not be reached for comment.


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