Group that helps marine animals in distress sees big spike in ne - KFVE, K5-Hawaii News Now, Local Programming

Group that helps marine animals in distress sees big spike in need

(Image: Hawaii Marine Animal Response) (Image: Hawaii Marine Animal Response)
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

A nonprofit that's dedicated to preserving Hawaii's protected marine species is busier than ever.

Hawaii Marine Animal Response responds to Hawaiian monk seals and turtles in distress, covering approximately 300 miles of coastline on Oahu and Molokai.

And so far this year, officials have noticed a significant increase in animal interventions and other actions.

"Some of that is caused by more general public awareness. People are more aware of what we do, and they're more aware of monk seals and more aware of turtles, so we're getting more phone calls than we used," said Jon Gelman, president of HMAR.

"But some of it may also be tied to some external issues like a disease or other things. It's really too early to tell."

In 2017, HMAR took part in escalated actions or interventions an average of six times a month.

During the first half of 2018, those activities nearly tripled — to 17 per month.

"Maybe once or twice a month, we might respond to a seal that has fishing line - either a hook or entangled," said Brittany Arvizu, a marine biologist and field response manager for HMAR. "The biggest risk is that that animal might drown. It might get caught on something on the reef."

Members also respond to sightings to keep track of specific animals, document potential health issues, and collect data for research.

"A lot more fishermen are hooking into sea turtles, a lot of sea turtle entanglements going on," said field response manager Nico Lopez. "The best thing we can do is just educate people more about fishing properly, maybe using barbless hooks."

The organization has about 100 team members, including staff, volunteers and interns. The group's funding is primarily from the federal government through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

To report a monk seal sighting or a sea turtle in distress, call HMAR's hotline: 1-888-256-9840.

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