Environmentalists Protest Launch of Hawaii Superferry

Travel Blog  •  Jim Benning  •  08.27.07 | 4:54 PM ET

hawaiiferryPhoto courtesy of Hawaii Superferry

Island-hopping Hawaii visitors now have a new way to get from Oahu to Maui or Kauai besides flying: the Hawaii Superferry Alakai, a giant catamaran that can haul 866 people and 282 cars. But not everyone is overjoyed with the new travel option. Hundreds protested the launch of the Superferry yesterday, including surfers who paddled out into the water, blocking the ferry from entering Lihue harbor in Kauai for more than an hour.

“At least 34 people swam out into the path of the ferry during the late afternoon,” the AP reported. “They stayed until three Coast Guard rigid-hulled inflatables, with a Coast Guard cutter standing by, began powering between the swimmers and surfers, appearing to charge at individual swimmers, taking one surfer’s board and apparently trying to haul some of the group out of the water.” A number of protesters were arrested.

Environmentalists worry that traffic jams will worsen on the islands, and they’re concerned about the ferry’s impact on the environment and wildlife, including the North Pacific humpback whales that breed and give birth off Maui.

Complicating matters, the state Supreme Court “ruled last week that the state should have required an environmental report before the ferry launched,” the AP reports. “State transportation officials, noting that the court didn’t explicitly say the ship couldn’t run, still allowed the service to start.”

The CEO of Hawaii Superferry has put the service in a global and historical context. “You look at the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands, New Zealand, the English Channel and the Baltics and it’s a common way of life,” he told the Honolulu Advertiser earlier this summer. “It’s a technology that’s really an outgrowth of the Polynesian double-hull canoes.”

I e-mailed Richard Roshon, who studies the humpbacks and leads low-impact, one-on-one kayaking outings off Lahaina to observe the whales, to get his take. I joined him on a three-hour kayaking trip a couple of years ago—we watched humpbacks spout and sound a mere 20 yards away from us as the sun rose one morning—and back then he was expressing concerns about boat traffic and its impact on the humpbacks.

Now, he’s concerned that noise from the ferry could cause stress that affects the heart-rate of female humpbacks, decreasing milk production for their calves. And he sees the potential for humpbacks swimming below the surface to be struck by the ferry.

“At 35 to 40 knots, it is impossible to see a mother resting just below the surface with her calf,” he wrote to me. “Reflection from the surface of the sea is blinding. It’s an accident waiting to happen.”

Time, of course, will tell.

For now, an attorney representing environmentalists says he’ll seek a court order for the Superferry to cease operation until further studies are completed.

The ferry operated without interruption today.

4 Comments for Environmentalists Protest Launch of Hawaii Superferry

Anne Thurston 08.28.07 | 3:43 AM ET

Richard Roshon.  Yeah right.  Check him out, he was a guest speaker at the Whale Quest, hosted at Kapalua resort on Maui.  Kapalua is owned by primary shareholder of Hawaii Superferry, Maui Land and Pine.  Didn’t hear him saying one word at this event this last February.

Talk about a two-faced hypocrite!

Beneficial Association 01.24.08 | 3:32 PM ET

This is true… animals are in danger but people have to do business to… we need a compromise…

jo 05.29.08 | 5:16 AM ET

isn’t there such a thing as sonar? I think it would be an easy way to detect whales under the surface. I think we also are totoaly unaware of the great intellegence of our animals.

Hawaii Wedding 08.20.08 | 9:43 PM ET

People need to find something better to do with themselves.  This fairy is an excellent addition for the Hawaiian islands and will benefit many.

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