BY SYDNEY ROSS SINGER – Hawaii’s environmental agenda of attacking species that “don’t belong in Hawaii” is killing our endangered Monk seals.

According to an recent AP article, printed on January 8, 2012 in the Hawaii Tribune Herald, http://hawaiitribune-herald.com/sections/news/local-news/new-threat-monk-seals.html, some residents consider the seals to be a non-native species that competes with fishermen. The article quotes Walter Ritte, a Molokai resident and longtime activist who has sounded an alarm about the killings. “It’s really serious. This attitude, this negative attitude toward the seals has overpowered the concern that this is a species that’s going to become extinct,” he said.

The article further explains, “Ritte said part of the problem was that older people, who didn’t see many seals growing up or hear about them from their elders, are spreading the word that the seals don’t belong in Hawaii.

A NOAA report released last year showed 35 percent of those surveyed at beaches and popular fishing areas on Kauai and Molokai believed the seals aren’t native to the islands.”

This raises a critical question for our legislators to consider as invasive species eradicators come to the public trough for more money to kill plants and animals that “don’t belong in Hawaii”.

How can we tell what does and doesn’t “belong” in Hawaii? Here is a quiz.

From the following list, pick the item that best matches your personal prejudice:

  •       Any plants or animals that were brought to Hawaii by human beings, including by the Hawaiians, don’t belong here.
  •       Any plants or animals brought by the Hawaiians is okay, but those brought by any other culture are bad and don’t belong here. However, alien biocontrol agents, such as insects and fungi which attack plants and animals that don’t belong here, do belong here.
  •       Any plants or animals that are useful, beautiful, or in some other way make our lives better belong here, but those that are noxious or poisonous don’t belong here.
  •       How do I know? I’m from New Jersey. I’m just glad to be alive and be living here.

This question is especially important for the invasive species committees and their army of eradicators poisoning, trapping, shooting and infesting our islands to kill species that they have decided “don’t belong”. And now, following their lead, members of the public are killing endangered Monk seals.

This is not a new problem. The State has killed endangered species in Hawaii if they are not “native” here, including veiled chameleons, parrots, and Mouflon sheep.

But we do set aside critical habitat for endangered Hawaiian fruit flies. Foreign fruit flies we kill.

According to the feds and state, strawberry guava doesn’t belong here, but the scale insect, Tectococcus ovatus, which the government plans to release to destroy the strawberry guava, does belong here. Red mangroves, brought to Hawaii since western contact, doesn’t belong, but white mangrove (milo) brought to Hawaii by the Hawaiians does. The pigs brought by the Europeans don’t belong, but the pigs brought by the Hawaiians do.

This is not a scientific approach to environmental management. This is prejudice, plan and simple. It is something everyone understands, even school children who are encouraged to kill coqui tree frogs and bring them to school for prizes. It’s okay to kill the frogs, the keiki are told, even by burning them to death with acid, since they “don’t belong here”.

You will hear it from bullies and racists. “Get outta here. You don’t belong here. Your kind is not welcome here.”

For some, the world is divided into “us” and “them”. If you are not one of us, then you don’t belong. It is a philosophy of exclusion. It plays well in times of war because its product is hatred and violence.

And the government is at war with the environment. Beneficial species of plants and animals are being eradicated. The goal is a species cleansing of our islands of all that was introduced by humans. It is an anti-human agenda, even destroying food resources that the public has used for generations. (Of course, only animals and plants brought to Hawaii are being attacked. The machines and buildings and roadways and shopping centers and pollution and military operations and GMO test sites will not be affected.)

This environmental war has sown some invasive seeds of its own, now producing intolerance and hatred for anything that anyone feels “doesn’t belong”. For some fishermen, the Monk seal just doesn’t belong.

How do you save the seals? According to the article, “Ritte believes no one would kill the seals if they understood the animals have been in Hawaii for millions of years.

He said the state and federal governments and environmentalists need to get the word out quickly that the seals belong here. Usually he would say everyone should focus on educating the children, so they’ll grow up knowing better.”

Apparently, it would be fine to kill the endangered seals if they didn’t belong here. The only way to save them is to convince everyone that they do belong here. It has nothing to do with the nature of the seals, or their right to survive as a species. All that matters is that they were here for a long time, so they “belong” here.

But what do we tell the children? “It’s okay to kill any animals or plants you don’t like as long as they don’t belong here.”

And what about the new haole kids on the block? They are different from us. They don’t belong here either. Let’s bully them, too.

In the Aloha State the attitude that others “don’t belong here” just doesn’t belong here.

But don’t be surprised if more Monk seals wash ashore. Our government’s environmental policy is working.

 

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Sydney Ross Singer is a medical and environmental anthropologist, author, and director of the Good Shepherd Foundation, located on the Big Island. Sydney is a pioneer of applied medical anthropology, and he is also the director of the Institute for the Study of Culturogenic Disease.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Sydney, I don’t live in Hawaii, but this attitude is rampant in the lower 48 as well. I’m an artist working with non-native species as a way of familiarizing people with them instead of demonizing them. People need to remember that nature, the environment is not a static entity, it’s constantly changing and new species relationships are always evolving. We’re a part of it, and we can’t stop it, only manage it in sane ways.

  2. Things aren’t as black and white as Mr. Singer claims. Those who fight INVASIVE species do so in order to save the endangered species. These invasive species that Mr. Singer mentions are considered invasive because they cause harm to the endangered native ecosystem. What makes them invasive? Most reproduce uncontrollably, making dense thickets of single species like the mangroves and waiawi What does that mean? Well, the endangered species (or as Mr. Singer likes to label them “weak natives”) become pushed out of their own homes because of these pushy new species. These new species take all the nutrients, grow larger and faster than native trees, shade out the keikis so that the only trees left living are the invasive ones. They can also change the soil or water nutrients in the process, creating a cascade of problems that can disrupt the entire nutrient cycling procedures. Is this what aloha is about? No one in their right mind would say that an invasive species shows any kind of aloha. In this sense, aloha would be considered reciprocated good manners, not just a constant giving. Constant taking is parasitism, not aloha.

  3. The issue is not whether or not an organism “belongs here’, but whether or not its presence is beneficial, neutral or detrimental. Hawaiian monk seals are native to Hawaii, and are not the same genetically as the Atlantic monk seals. However, even if they were not native, they are not detrimental. The complaining fishermen were probably fishing in a restricted area.

    Several years ago I attended a meeting of the Aha Kanaka (Kanaka Council) at which there were two guests who I recognized as being members of Pig Hunters of Hawaii. Their pitch to the council was that monk seals are not native, and therefore not deserving of protection even though their population (1,200) is at crisis level, because they are not mentioned in the Hawaiian creation chant, the Kumulipo.

    So I went to the library and took out an English translation of the Kumulipo and read the entire chant very carefully. It refers to a hairless sea dog with whiskers. Sounds like a monk seal to me – and I can’t think of any other animal here that could fit that description. So those guys have been going around the state spreading this misinformation to Hawaiian and other groups. They, and this falsehood, are more responsible than any environmentalists, who most certainly are eager to offer protection to the seals and see their numbers once again increase to become a genetically viable population.

  4. I suspect the local fishermen know the monk seals are native. The problem is, the monk seals are being transported in, protected, and perpetuated in areas they have not been. They take over these areas and eat all the fish. Being the monk seals are protected, the public is no longer even allowed in those places that have previously been good public fishing areas. Fishermen have gone to these spots to fish for generations. They are loosing their opportunities and rights. The locals are not stupid. They know what the government is doing to them everywhere.

  5. counter current

    It’s quite clear that you hate anything innocent. There’s a reason why the seals are being protected. There are only 1,100 seals left because they are disappearing because of people like you. I highly doubt that they’re being put into certain are and eating all the fish. I also highly doubt that the public is no longer able to fish in those areas. If the seals weren’t protected, I have a feeling that people like you and the fishermen would kill every one of those sweet, beautiful creatures. You have no heart and because you lack a heart, you also have no soul. I have a feeling that even if you did have a heart and a soul, you would still hate anything innocent or in this case kill anything innocent. .By the way, are you always this paranoid?

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