DLNR and DOH –

A Toxic Combination,

or, the Big Fish gets away


By Carroll Cox


State-operated oil dump station at Kewalo Basin


For many years the Hawaii State Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) has been closing areas to fishing and designating them as Marine Protection Areas, or MPA’s.  The current DLNR administration is, quite correctly, a proponent of such practices.   In addition, it recently introduced a community action group to detect and report natural resources violations and in particular, marine related violations.  The DLNR has also authored and implemented a new rule to strengthen its enforcement and regulatory efforts regarding the use of gill nets.   And, they supported legislation that will allow DLNR enforcement officers to search coolers and other containers, including vehicles and boats, if they suspect illegal gear or catch is present.  Unfortunately, this particular legislation is for “searches without probable cause”, which is why we disagree with it.      

With the exception of their latest request, any efforts toward increased legislation and enforcement is welcome and appreciated.    However, we believe most, if not all of their current legislative, administrative and enforcement efforts are a smokescreen designed to conceal DLNR’s, and the Department of Health’s (DOH) unwillingness and inability to tackle the larger issues that negatively impact the fish population and marine resources it is their job to protect.

Particularly, we are perplexed by both the DLNR’s and DOH’s lackluster approach to addressing and abating the negative impacts that sewage, illegal dumping, construction, farming and agriculture, golf courses, septic tanks, aquatic research facilities and projects, and other point and non-point pollution have on our fish and marine resources.  We believe that, to compensate for its lack of protection in these areas, the DLNR is diligently and aggressively implementing rules that will allow warrantless searches and ban gill nets.  

Effluent water from Lake Wilson being
dumped via Dole's irrigation flume into
the Kaukonahau Stream

Clothes dryer dumped on the beach

Farm run off, aquaculture facilities, illegal dumping and other activities have been proven to have a negative impact on fish populations and other marine resources.  Research publications and government and privately funded environmental programs have emphasized the need to curb overflow.  Although scientific reports show many human impacts are to blame for the fisheries decline, it seems most are ignored by government.   Emphasis is not being placed on a major problem that deteriorates water quality, degrades fish habitat, and adds to the declining health of fisheries.

 Unfortunately, according to the following examples,  we must report that the Department of Land and Natural Resources and Department of Health fall far short in their efforts to implement measures to reduce impacts in these areas.  

WASTEWATER:   For many years EnviroWatch, Inc. has been investigating and reporting on the City and County of Honolulu and the United States Department of Defense’s Waste Water Treatment Plant operations near Wahiawa.  We are particularly concerned about their disposal and dumping of treated sewage water into irrigation ditches and the Kaukonahua stream that run through central Oahu and empties into the ocean on the North Shore.   We have proven that the water in the irrigation ditch owned by Dole Foods Hawaii is treated wastewater from the City and County of Honolulu’s Wahiawa Waste Water Treatment Plant, via the Wahiawa Reservoir, and the Schofield Barracks Waste Water Treatment Plant.   After our coverage of this story, signs were posted warning the public that water in the irrigation system is not clean.

A large percentage of the water from the treatment plant finds it’s way to the ocean on the North Shore, and some of it just percolates into the ground water.  This so-called “treated” water contains suspended solids, chemicals, estrogen. oil, antibiotics, herbicides, pesticides, heavy metals and many other contaminants.   We still don’t know the ecological threats some of these contaminants pose to fish and other marine resources.  And worse, due to problems with the treatment plant, every so often untreated sewage gets dumped into Lake Wilson, affecting the overall levels of contaminants.

GILL NETS: I had occasion to talk to some guys using what appeared to be an illegal gill net in one of the state parks.   I asked if they were concerned the game warden or conservation officer would catch them using the net.  They told me they weren’t concerned because they knew exactly where the game warden would be for that area on any given night.  When asked to clarify, they told me the game warden punctually locks the gates at the various state parks. 


example of a gill net

OIL AND GASES:  I have documented people cutting and dismantling air conditioners in state parks during daylight hours, and no one from the DLNR intercepts them.  We observed them dumping oil from compressors on the ground and allowing the refrigerant gas to flow into the atmosphere.  They told me they have been doing this for a year and often stop in the park to cut up air conditioners and other scrap metal for sale. The oil will eventually find its way into the storm drain and then the ocean.  The oil also poses a threat to the birds in the area.

cutting air condtioners releases refrigerant gas

AQUATIC RESEARCH:  Aquatic research facilities and projects pose a threat when their discharged sediment soils fish eggs or larvae, making them more susceptible to fungal growth.  Sediments also suffocate the large egg masses laid by some fish.   Sediments increase turbidity, which blocks sunlight that is needed to grow healthy coral reefs.  Heavy metals and other pollutants, pesticides, estrogen and antibiotics buildup in the tissues of some fishes and affect marine life throughout the food chain.

ILLEGAL DUMPING:  Along the coast of our islands we have documented the dumping of large numbers of lead acid batteries in or near tide pools, streams and wetlands.   In some instances it appears the batteries have been there for many years.  Also, drums, bottles and pails of motor oil, transmission fluids, paints, and solvents can be found.   All of these discarded products lay around for long periods of time, eventually leeching into the ground water.  The runoff goes into our streams, tide pools and ocean.  In one instance we even found banned pesticides dumped in a wetland area. 

Don’t get me wrong.   In no way are we suggesting that the DLNR is wrong for banning gill nets, enforcing fishing laws, or getting the public involved.   However, we do believe DLNR is remiss in its failure to investigate and prosecute the larger problems that are causing even more damage to our resources.   They are missing the bigger picture, and attempting to cover up their past mistakes by going after the easier, more visible targets that will not cost a lot of time, politics or money to prosecute.   And, without enforcement none if it will matter.